COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The panel charged with redrawing Ohio’s state legislative districts for the next 10 years will miss its Sept. 1 deadline, triggering an extension until the middle of the month.
While Senate Democrats submitted the first map of the process on Tuesday, maps by GOP lawmakers are still in the work, said Republican House Speaker Bob Cupp, co-chair of the Ohio Redistricting Commission.
He blamed the delayed release of 2020 Census figures, which arrived earlier this month — more than four months after the April 1 date on which they normally arrive, because of the impact of the coronavirus.
“Had the census data arrived on time, we probably would have had a map weeks ago,” Cupp said. “Because this is a new process which requires a fairly careful compliance with the constitutional requirements, I do not see a map that I am aware of that can come before the commission before Sept. 1.”
Cupp said maps by GOP lawmakers are in the works but he couldn’t say when they’d be available other than by the new deadline of Sept. 15.
That response frustrated Rep. Emilia Sykes of Akron, the top House Democrat, who pressed the point that under the constitution, map-making is the commission’s responsibility.
“It does not say that it’s the responsibility of the Senate Dems, or the House Dems, or the Senate Republicans, or the House Republicans, or the secretary of state or the governor or the auditor of the state,” Sykes said. “It is the commission.”
The commission held nine public hearings around the state earlier this month looking for input on a new map, which is meant to end the current gerrymandered maps.
A few witnesses defended the maps, saying that it’s fair that Republicans are favored because they make up a majority of Ohio voters. One scholar put the divide at 53% Republicans, 45% Democrats.
But an Associated Press analysis found that Ohio’s maps are among the nation’s most gerrymandered, during a period when Republicans won more seats than would have been expected based on the percentage of votes they received.
Those voters approved constitutional amendments in 2015 and 2018 that created a new process for drawing both state legislative and congressional district maps this year and set up the independent commission.
Sykes’ father, Sen. Vernon Sykes of Akron and the commission co-chair, opened Tuesday’s meeting by introducing a map drawn by Senate Democrats that included 44 likely Democratic districts and 55 likely Republican districts in the House, and 14 likely Democratic districts and 19 likely Republican districts in the Senate.
The map “not only meets our constitutional requirements but follows the spirit of the reforms that Ohio voters have demanded of us,” Vernon Sykes said.
Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican and commission member, said the map failed to protect incumbent senators as required by the map-making process. Sykes said he believes the map is accurate.
Creating a 10-year map requires a majority vote of the commission, including both Democrats. Creating a 4-year map requires a simple majority of the commission without both Democrats.
Both Cupp and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a commission member, said they favor a 10-year map.
The General Assembly has to complete a new map of the state’s congressional districts, which will be reduced from 16 to 15 as a result of lagging population growth, by Sept. 30. The panel would only get involved in that second process if state lawmakers cannot come to an agreement.