It’s highly likely voters will get to vote on a new way to draw Ohio’s Congressional map in May. The House approved a plan that passed the Senate unanimously last night. The passage comes in time for lawmakers to make the February 7 deadline for putting the issue before voters this spring.
House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger has nothing but praise for the new plan passed by lawmakers in his chamber.
“This is a great step. And I’m really happy that we were able to get a bipartisan agreement. Nobody is happy but I think that’s what happens in compromise so now it’s up to the people in the May ballot and I hope they will consider supporting this.”
The plan includes factors that make it harder to draw districts to favor one party or the other, like the ones on the current Congressional map. That map, drawn in 2011, is regarded as one of the most gerrymandered in the nation. Supporters say the new plan will require more buy-in from whatever party is in the minority, especially for a 10-year map. A map forced through by the majority party only would be good for just four years.
And Rep. Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) said under the new plan, there is a limit on the way counties could be split.
“65 of Ohio’s 88 counties cannot be split at all. 18 of Ohio’s counties can be split only once. Only five counties can be split twice. So under this particular proposal, a county cannot be split three different times.”
And those drawing the map can choose which five counties will be split. There are some additional rules too - like the one that says Cleveland must be kept whole unless required by federal law and a district there doesn’t have to remain in the Cuyahoga County boundaries. Under this plan, Cincinnati must be kept whole the next time the map is drawn, and at anytime Hamilton County is bigger than a district. But Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati) took issue with that because she thinks it will be harder for minorities there to be fairly represented.
“Mr. Speaker, I’m highly disappointed. And I know people sell this like, ‘oh Hamilton County, you’re going to have a chance but in Hamilton County, not one African American has been elected county-wide. So keeping the county together is nice but it’s not a guarantee for more inclusion.”
Rep. Dan Ramos (D-Lorain) is also not happy with it. He represents Lorain, which has the state’s highest percentage of Hispanic residents.
“There is no protection in this legislation, in and of itself, for communities of racial and ethnic minorities beyond abiding by federal law. That is no guarantee my friends. Federal law…that it currently protects these groups. It does not. It is being eroded both in the courts and the legislation and the Congress.”
Despite the opposition of some, the plan garnered widespread support from both Republicans and Democrats, passing by about an eight to one margin. The plan also won support from a coalition of citizens’ groups that was planning to put its own Congressional redistricting plan before voters in the fall. Catherine Turcer with Common Cause Ohio says it’s good when you can get lawmakers to come together to pass meaningful legislation like this.
“This was, of course, a compromise. And it is always hard when you’ve been spending your time, working hard, collecting signatures, talking to voters about a reform measure that we want to put on the ballot to say, ok, let’s step back and let’s actually see what kind of compromise comes out and let’s see if it’s actually good enough. And that’s where we are at. We’re at a point where it’s good enough. We support it.”
But if it doesn’t pass in May, Turcer says the coalition will continue to push forward with its redistricting amendment in November, or next year.
“No one is throwing away their petitions or pitching all of that. We’re going to see how things come together when it comes to the campaign.”
Turcer says the coalition has about two-thirds of the petition signatures it needs to put its issue on the ballot in the future.
Gov. John Kasich has said he supports redistricting reform but his signature is not needed on this legislation. Now that it’s passed, lawmakers have just hours to file at the Secretary of State’s office to put the issue on the ballot in May.