by J.D. Davidson
Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission passed a modified version of state legislative districts previously ruled unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court, bypassing the efforts of two independent map makers it hired last week.
An hour before Monday’s 11:59 p.m. court ordered deadline, the commission voted along party lines, 5-2, in favor of maps drawn by Republicans.
Democrats claimed the approved maps again were drawn in secret while the map makers worked for days in public to develop maps. House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, called it a slap in the face to Ohio voters.
“These Republican maps are a complete and utter farce,” Russo said. “It is an absolute slap in the face to the voters, the court and the constitution that the majority of commissioners adopted these gerrymandered maps today. Republican commissioners chose their own partisan power over the Ohio voters they have a duty to represent. It is abundantly clear that Republicans lack the political will, not the ability, to adopt constitutional maps.”
The commission hired the two map makers at a rate of $450 an hour with a cap of $49,000 for each. A total cost for the process has not yet been calculated, according to Maya Majikas, deputy communications director for the Democrats.
Mike McDonald, one of the map makers and a professor at the University of Florida, said Monday morning the House map presented to commissioners at that time met the court ordered proportionality of 54% Republican districts and 46% Democratic, with three GOP and three Democrat leaning toss-up districts.
The Senate map also met the proportionality requirement, but with two Democrat leaning competitive districts and no Republican leaning toss-up districts.
The commission struggled with issues with those maps throughout the day, despite McDonald telling the group he didn’t believe those maps could be improved.
“In order to ensure the commission adopted a general assembly district plan by the court’s deadline, on the final evening of March 28, 2022, the commission instructed commission member staff to prepare, with the assistance of the independent map drawers, a modification of the plan adopted by the commission on Feb. 24, 2022 that more closely complies with the court’s orders than the third plan,” the Republican majority said in a statement.
The Republican members of the commission – Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, State Auditor Keith Faber, Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, and House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima – said they believe the fourth set of maps does not contain constitutional violations and meets proportionality required by the court.
Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, a member of the commission, said Republicans wasted a chance to meet the court’s requirements.
“The majority commissioners purposely wasted another opportunity to adopt constitutional, proportional maps,” Sykes said. “This ridiculous diversion is insulting to voters and comes at a considerable expense to Ohio taxpayers. We made a historic move toward transparency, but Republicans chose to hijack the process. There seems to be no end to the arrogance of the supermajority.”
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled, 4-3, on March 16 the commission’s third attempt at state legislative district maps unfairly favored Republicans, saying the commission has attempted three sets of maps without input from Democrats on any, instead using GOP staffers to draft each map.
The court also suggested, but did not order, an independent map drawer be engaged, but the commission holds the responsibility to draw and approve maps.
Aside from claiming the process was not transparent, the court focused on toss-up districts and said they could not count to the proportionality it required in previous rulings.
It also ordered a more collaborative effort between Republicans and Democrats on the commission and for the commission to hold more frequent public hearings.
The commission’s first maps favored the GOP by 62% in the House and nearly 70% in the Senate. The second set of maps showed 58.3% Republican-leaning legislative districts, above the court-ordered 54%.
The court ruled again the third set of maps unfairly favored the GOP.
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An Ohio native, J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher. He is regional editor for The Center Square.
Photo “Ohio State House” by Ɱ CC BY-SA 4.0.