Talks underway on changing Ohio Statehouse maps

By Julie Carr Smyth - Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Democrats bolstered by a high court victory this month appeared to dig in their heels Saturday against another round of gerrymandered legislative maps in Ohio.

The state’s bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission repeatedly recessed for long stretches ahead of a midnight deadline set by its members to hash out a compromise that satisfies members of both parties.

In tossing the maps Jan. 12, the Ohio Supreme Court gave the commission 10 days to approve redrawn maps of the state’s 99 Ohio House districts and 33 Ohio Senate districts. Justices also retained the right to review the new maps.

Lawyers for parties in successful constitutional challenges in which earlier maps were determined to unduly favor the Republicans who drew them say the deadline allowable under court rules is actually Monday.

Either way, time pressure is intense. A candidate filing deadline for the May 3 primary is Feb. 2, and Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the state’s elections chief, has warned that administrative deadlines are already beginning to be missed.

Newly elected House Democratic Leader Allison Russo faulted Republicans for refusing to support maps that more closely reflect Ohio voters’ preferences over the past decade, now agreed upon as 54% Republican and 46% Democratic.

“To achieve this objective, the Republican commission members must acknowledge their duty to draw maps that would create at least 45 Democratic House seats and 15 Democratic Senate seats,” she said in a statement Friday. “Ohioans are counting on us to deliver fair, constitutional maps by the court deadline, and it is our job to deliver.”

But Republicans still maintain massive sway in the process, with five of seven votes on the commission.

They came up with a proposal Friday that broke down to 57 Republican and 42 Democratic House seats and 20 Republican and 13 Democratic Senate seats — though with some districts so closely divided that they could be election toss-ups.

Parties in lawsuits against the maps — which included voting-rights and Democratic groups — submitted their own plan on Friday. The ACLU of Ohio described the drawings as “technically perfect” at meeting the checklist of requirements for partisan fairness and balance that voters approved in 2015.

On Saturday, the citizen-led Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission submitted its proposed fix to the Ohio House and Ohio Senate maps approved along party lines on Sept. 16. Due to a lack of Democratic support, that plan would have been effective for only four years, rather than the full decade generally intended when states redraw lines to reflect new decennial census totals.

The House and Senate Democratic caucuses also submitted their map proposal on Saturday, while Republicans were working to move their initial maps closer to what Democrats want.

Talks were continuing among the four legislative caucuses and three statewide officials on the commission — Gov. Mike DeWine, LaRose and Auditor Keith Faber.

By Julie Carr Smyth

Associated Press

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