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Letter suggests redistricting commission leaders disagree over new meeting date

Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) , left, speaks to reporters with Senator Vernon Sykes (D-Akron), after a brief meeting outlining the Ohio Redistricting Committee's next steps in redrawing legislative map districts in Ohio.

A letter from Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) to House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) said he would accept a suggested redistricting commission meeting date of May 4, but with reservations.

The letter from Sykes is the first time the suggested meeting date of May 4 was made public.

That meeting would be 20 days after the Ohio Supreme Court invalidated the commission's fourth attempt at House and Senate district maps. In that ruling, the supreme court gave the commission until May 6 to adopt a fifth attempt at maps.

Sykes is a commission co-chair with Cupp. He wrote Cupp to say he would agree to the May 4 meeting date but with reservations.

"Two weeks have passed with no meetings. I believe that waiting to hold our first meeting on May 4 is irresponsible and does not adequately respond to the Supreme Court’s order. I ask you to reconsider your plan of not scheduling our first meeting until May 4," Sykes wrote.

Sykes and House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) have been calling for the commission to reconvene since the last supreme court ruling was released. Auditor Keith Faber, a Republican, joined that call on Tuesday. According to the rules, once three members call for a meeting, the commission must reconvene. But, according to Cupp's office, a formal request from all the three members together was never filed.

There have been obstacles for the commission to meet. Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, was quarantined for a week after testing positive for COVID-19 and most commissioners are running for re-election in the May 3 primary.

Voting rights advocates and community groups have said the commission could have found ways to continue to meet even with those obstacles in place.

Jen Miller, executive director for the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said Republicans on the commission cannot claim they did not have enough time.

"They have been dragging their feet for almost a year now," said Miller, referring to the delay in the commission meeting to draw the first round of maps. "They could have been meeting well before August when they started and we see each time that they kind of wait till the last minute until they get going. They had time and they have it now and they're not using it wisely."

The commission is also facing a second court-ordered deadline. The federal court said – if new maps are not validated by May 28 – then it will implement unconstitutional House and Senate maps drawn and adopted by Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

The state legislative races were removed from the May 3 ballot for a second primary to be held later this year.

Voting is still happening for the May 3 primary for statewide, congressional, and local races.

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