Urgency To Redraw Ohio's Congressional Maps Varies Among Democrats, Republicans

May 9, 2019

A federal court has denied Ohio’s request to delay new congressional map drawing. The request was filed after the court ruled that the current district lines are gerrymandered to benefit Republicans. The state says it’s still looking to the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the decision pending its appeal. But a top Ohio Democrat says now is the time for the state to get the ball rolling on drawing the new congressional districts. 

Redrawing Ohio’s congressional map goes beyond just the recent federal court ruling, according to House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron). She notes voters have approved two ballot issues since 2015 to change districts, one for state legislative offices and another for congressional districts.

“People quite frankly are sick and tired of unfair, gerrymandered via partisan political lines, and they want something that reflects their communities. And they’ve asked us to do that. And it is incumbent upon us to provide that and to do the work that they’ve asked us to do,” Sykes says.

Sykes is co-chair of the Legislative Task Force on Redistricting. She’s calling on the task force to start the process of creating a new congressional map before the 2020 election despite the state government’s fight to appeal the ruling that orders a new map to be drawn by June 14.

“This federal court decision has put us on notice and is letting us know that, should we come up with something that is improper or unconstitutional or deemed to be partisan gerrymandering, we will have to do this all over again so that says to me, we should spend a little bit more time on this issue and start this process now rather than sitting on our hands,” says Sykes.

The state’s two U.S. Senators are also weighing in on the issue. Both are former members of the U.S. House. As U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) notes, none of Ohio’s 16 districts have switched parties since the districts were redrawn for 2012.

“The gerrymandering was done so efficiently, and precisely, and politically by the majority party that happens to be the Republicans in this case,” says Brown, who also makes the case for urgency in starting the process to redraw the maps. “The court says the voters of Ohio, the citizens of Ohio are entitled to a change because Republicans redistricting for a decade has violated their rights, so we don’t wait two more years for citizens to be able to choose their members of Congress rather than their members of Congress choosing their voters.”

U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has a somewhat different take.

“What most people who I respect who are looking at this are saying ‘why not let the process go forward that we just voted on,’” Portman says.

As Portman points out, the 2018 ballot issue to change the district drawing system displayed an overwhelming support for reform. But he says Ohioans voted for that change to take place by 2022.

“It’s a process that we just voted on. I voted for it, but so did a vast majority of Ohioans and I think we ought to let that system work. It’s supposed to be reshaping the lines after the census which is coming up next year,” says Portman.

The task force Sykes wants to get started is a bipartisan panel which includes  State Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) as co-chair. He says it may not necessarily be the work of the taskforce but maybe a legislative committee. However, Obhof notes that the Senate is in a busy period with the budget coming their way.

“But you know we can tackle a lot of issues at the same time if necessary so we’re considering our options right now,” Obhof says.

Obhof also notes that there’s still a legal process that he thinks needs to play out. Two other states, Maryland and North Carolina, have similar cases they’re appealing in the U.S. Supreme Court. Republican state officials have suggested rulings in those cases could impact Ohio.

But Sykes says the taskforce can be seeking answers to questions now, so that they’re prepared.

“People are going to be watching Ohio to see how we do this. We have a different process for both the state legislative and congressional districts and they’re gonna see if we’re gonna mess it up. And so let’s not give the opportunity to mess it up and get it right by starting early,” Sykes says.

The court ruled that if Ohio doesn’t have a map drawn by June 14, or if that map is found unconstitutional as well, the court can step in and draw a map.