COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Republicans have approved new state legislative maps early Thursday morning that should allow them to maintain their veto-proof majority in the Ohio House and Senate, doing so without Democratic votes.
It sets up the maps to be redrawn in four years under Ohio’s new redistricting rules.
The new districts likely would award 62 of 99 House seats and 23 of 33 Senate seats to Republicans, Senate President Matt Huffman said Wednesday. Democrats agreed with the Senate projection, but said the maps actually create 65 Republican House districts, an analysis matched by Dave’s Redistricting App, a popular website. Anything above 60 House seats and 20 Senate seats is a veto-proof supermajority.
Five Republicans on the commission voted for the maps, while two Democrats voted against them, in approving them early Thursday morning, shortly after a midnight deadline. Had the commission gotten Democratic support, the maps would remain in effect for 10 years under Ohio’s new redistricting rules. But since they didn’t, they will expire after four years.
Huffman portrayed the maps as a relative compromise. He said it gave away several Republican seats compared to an earlier Republican plan, and incorporated public feedback. He issued a statement after the meeting suggesting Democrats opposed the maps because of pressure from outside, Democratic-aligned redistricting groups.
“This takes us much closer to the Democratic plan that was presented,” Huffman said.
But two Republicans who cast decisive votes, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Gov. Mike DeWine, both suggested the maps may be found unconstitutional. Ohio’s new rules require maps to be politically proportionate with recent vote results. They also say the lines shouldn’t favor any political party.
The districts would award Republicans a significantly greater proportion of seats than recent statewide voting totals — over the past 10 years, Republicans have won 54% of the votes in the 16 federal and non-judicial state races contested statewide over the past decade.
The official Republican statement that accompanied the map argued that because Republicans have won 13 out of the 16 statewide elections — 81% of the elections — it justified awarding themselves anywhere from 54% to 81% of the seats. In other words, they keyed in on the word “results” in the new constitutional language.
Several commissioners said they expect the maps to quickly end up in court. The Ohio Supreme Court would hear any lawsuits, which are all but guaranteed. The court has a 4-3 split, with Republicans holding a narrow majority, but Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor could hold a key swing vote, given her legal track record. The court has the ability to order changes to the maps or to reject them outright if they find them too flawed or politically disproportionate.
“I have felt throughout this process that the committee could have produced a more clearly constitutional bill. That’s not the bill that we have in front of us,” DeWine said.
DeWine later added: “I’m not judging the bill one way or the other. That’s up for a court to do.”
LaRose said he was voting to adopt the maps “with great unease.”
“I fear we’re going to be back in this room very soon. This map has many shortcomings, but they pale in comparison to the shortcomings of this process,” LaRose said.
The two Democrats on the redistricting commission complained bitterly about the process and the resulting maps. House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes and her father Sen. Vernon Sykes both said they’d rejected the new maps Tuesday, when they were floated privately. Democrats proposed their own plans, the most recent of which likely would have awarded Republicans 57 House seats and 20 Senate seats.
“I am just astounded by the arrogance of the supermajority having such a callous disregard for the people of this day,” said Vernon Sykes.
“I call it offensive and plain wrong to move forward this map … to put forth something that so arrogantly flies in the face of what people, our voters, asked us to do, not once, but twice,” Emilia Sykes said.
Republican observers had expected the Ohio Redistricting Commission to approve four-year maps, not expecting legislative leaders to make significant concessions to reach a deal with Democrats. But the last several days have brought behind-the-scenes negotiations between two commission Republicans — state Auditor Keith Faber and LaRose — and the Sykeses. DeWine entered the process on Wednesday, pushing for a bipartisan deal, which he said would be worth missing the deadline if necessary.