Ohio Redistricting Commission reconvenes

Eyes Saturday court deadline to redraw state legislative maps

By Andrew J. Tobias - cleveland.com

Bob Cupp

Bob Cupp

Gov. Mike DeWine speaks during an Ohio Redistricting Commission meeting at the Ohio Statehouse on Tuesday.

Gov. Mike DeWine speaks during an Ohio Redistricting Commission meeting at the Ohio Statehouse on Tuesday.

Tribune News Service

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio Redistricting Commission met Tuesday to publicly lay out the ground rules it will follow ahead of a Saturday deadline set by a court order commanding the commission to draw more politically representative state legislative maps.

Gov. Mike DeWine convened the meeting of the seven-member commission, the first step toward eventually approving a new set of maps. The meeting follows a 4-3 Wednesday decision from the Ohio Supreme Court that rejected the last set of maps approved by commission Republicans as unconstitutional under Ohio’s new anti-gerrymandering rules.

More redistricting commission meetings could be announced soon, including possibly those at which public testimony would be allowed. On Tuesday, DeWine ran through the highlights of last week’s Supreme Court decision, which ordered the commission to draw maps that favor Republicans and Democrats to win districts in proportions as close as possible to the 54%-46% share of the statewide vote each party received in recent elections, while also following geographic map-drawing rules, including those limiting how the maps can split counties.

House Speaker Bob Cupp, a Lima Republican who co-chairs the commission, said commission members are working to comply with the court’s order, which rejected arguments from Republicans that making politically proportionate districts was optional. In addition, the court clarified that constitutional language saying that districts should correspond with statewide voter preferences referred to each party’s share of the vote, not their share of election wins, as Republicans tried to argue.

Cupp also said his goal is for the commission to approve 10-year maps, which would require votes from both commission Democrats to happen. Otherwise, the maps only would be good for four years.

“The court gave some definition as to what some previously undefined terms were,” Cupp said. “They have filled in some of the blanks, in terms of what criteria is to be used, as well as what is binding in the commission as opposed to what is permissive … And so we are working together to implement those ideas.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, DeWine swore in state Rep. Allison Russo, an Upper Arlington Democrat whom minority Democrats chose their caucus leader last week, as the commission’s newest member. She joins six other returning commission members: DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, state Auditor Keith Faber, Senate President Matt Huffman, House Speaker Bob Cupp – all Republicans – and Democratic Sen. Vernon Sykes.

Commission members had little to say about a different deadline they have to approve a new congressional map after the court on Friday similarly rejected a Republican plan that DeWine had signed into last in November. That map would have favored Republicans to win at least 12 of Ohio’s 15 congressional seats, which likely would have netted Democrats at least a one-seat loss compared to the current map, in effect since 2011.

“Right now, our focus is on the legislative one because the timeline is so much shorter, and then we’ll take up the congressional conundrum as well,” Cupp said.

The aides for Republican and Democratic legislative leaders who actually will do the work of drawing the new state legislative maps met on Monday to go over the basic process of how they might work together. As small of a step as that is, it’s a significant change from the last round of redistricting, when Cupp and Huffman wouldn’t grant other commission members access to their mapping experts, setting them up in a secret location that was kept even from their fellow Republicans. In its decision, the court criticized Cupp and Huffman’s dominance of the process, citing as evidence that the commission didn’t even attempt to draw politically neutral or proportionate maps.

“Those who actually have been looking at the maps and have that data in front of them have been talking amongst themselves,” DeWine said during Tuesday’s meeting. “I think all of this is being done, and I would like the record to reflect that.”

The commission did announce, however, that it had agreed on when the legal deadline to approve a new map plan is. In its ruling last Wednesday, the Supreme Court gave the redistricting commission 10 days to come up with new, constitutional maps. Legal observers initially pointed to Monday, Jan. 24 as the likely deadline since Supreme Court rules don’t allow legal deadlines to toll during a weekend.

But commission members said Tuesday their lawyers have agreed the deadline is actually on Saturday, which is 10 days after the court’s order came out.

Although they likely will try to maximize their political advantage regarding how the new districts are drawn, Republicans may be boxed in by the Supreme Court order.

That’s because the majority opinion, in which Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor joined the court’s three Democrats, pointed to a proposed set of maps submitted during the course of the lawsuit as an example of a constitutional plan. The court also wrote if it’s possible to draw maps that comply with the state constitution, including the geographic and political requirements, the commission “must adopt a plan that does so.”

The plan was drawn for the plaintiffs by Jonathan Rodden, a Stanford University professor. Rodden’s plan would have favored Republicans to win 56% of state legislative seats, compared to the 66% advantage Republicans drew into the maps the court rejected.

“Dr. Rodden drew a plan that was compliant with [the state constitution], and that is more proportional to the statewide voter preferences than the plan adopted by the commission,” the court said in its majority ruling last week.

More specifically, Rodden’s plan would draw a Senate map likely to produce an 18-15 Republican majority in the Senate and a 56-43 Republican majority in the House. If such a map were adopted, eight Republican House members and seven Republican senators would be drawn into Democratic-leaning districts, putting the GOP in jeopardy of dropping below the 60% threshold they need to maintain their veto-proof supermajority.

Because the constitution also sets limits on which counties can be split, and because of the concentration of Democratic voters in more densely-populated areas, the Republican lawmakers most likely to see their seats eliminated would be from more urban and suburban counties.

If the commission draws maps that are perfectly proportionate to the statewide vote, Republicans would be favored to hold 54 House seats and 18 Senate seats. But the geographic rules in the state constitution could make it difficult for the commission to do so — and Republicans have contended it’s impossible.

Russo said during Tuesday’s meeting the commission’s goal should be perfect political proportionality.

“My expectation is that we will follow what the court has very clearly laid out for us to do,” she said.

LaRose, a Republican who is the state’s top elections official, during Tuesday’s meeting urged the commission to work as quickly as possible. He wrote letters to Cupp and Huffman on Tuesday asking for flexibility to move technical elections-related deadlines.

The candidate filing deadline for state legislative candidates running in the upcoming May primary is Feb. 2. But there are preliminary, administrative-related deadlines that come before that, including one this weekend.

“Ohioans deserve an accurate and accessible primary election. And as this process continues, we are starting to come perilously close to reaching the point where that may become logistically impossible,” LaRose said.

Bob Cupp
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2022/01/web1_Cupp-Robert-CMYK.jpgBob Cupp
Gov. Mike DeWine speaks during an Ohio Redistricting Commission meeting at the Ohio Statehouse on Tuesday.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2022/01/web1_20220120-AMX-US-NEWS-THEODORE-DECKER-OHIO-REDISTRICTING-EFFORT-1-OH.jpgGov. Mike DeWine speaks during an Ohio Redistricting Commission meeting at the Ohio Statehouse on Tuesday. Tribune News Service
Eyes Saturday court deadline to redraw state legislative maps

By Andrew J. Tobias


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