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Voting rights groups in ‘research phase’ for new Ohio redistricting process

Different drafts of Ohio congressional district maps from the Ohio Redistricting Commission.
Andy Chow
Statehouse News Bureau
Different drafts of Ohio congressional district maps from the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

A collection of voting rights groups and good government organizations said they are looking into proposing a new redistricting process that prevents gerrymandering after the Ohio Redistricting Commission — once again — misses a deadline to adopt a new map. A deadline that is disputed by Republican leaders.

Jen Miller, executive director for the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said the Ohio Redistricting Commission was required by the constitution to draw a new congressional district map by September 16. That deadline will be missed given the redistricting commission has not met and has no intention of meeting.

Because of the latest twist in the Ohio redistricting saga, Miller said they are moving forward in their possible push for a new redistricting reform — one that uses an “independent” mapmaking entity.

“Bottom line, we think we need to take the map drawing away from politicians. And, certainly we can look at ways to increase the authority of the Ohio Supreme Court,” said Miller.

The idea of once again amending the Ohio Constitution to prevent gerrymandering has been floating around the statehouse as the redistricting commission consistently adopts maps that have been ruled unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court. Voters overwhelming approved the current process through ballot issues in 2015 and 2018.

Now, Miller said they are in the “research phase” of considering a new initiative.

“Looking and learning from other states in terms of what has worked and what has not,” Miller said.

GOP leaders dispute timeline

House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) has disagreed with the notion that the Ohio Redistricting Commission or the state legislature has missed a deadline to pass a new congressional district map.

Cupp wrote a memo to Republican House members saying that the timeline for the legislature to work on drafting new districts does not begin until “all appeals are final.”

By this argument, according to Cupp, the GOP leadership can challenge the Ohio Supreme Court ruling by filing an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) has said he would like to file that appeal.

David Niven, University of Cincinnati political science professor, said Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission have used stall tactics during the map drawing process in order to bypass rulings from the Ohio Supreme Court. He said Cupp and Huffman’s reasons for missing the latest deadline are similar to the arguments made for drawing unconstitutional maps.

“These are not sincere arguments. These are the arguments of people who've gotten away with something and they intend to keep getting away with it,” said Niven.

Ohio’s 15-district congressional map was adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission on March 2 and was ruled unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court on July 19. Although the map was invalidated, the districts will still be used for congressional races in the November election because a new map was not adopted in time.

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