Republicans offer redistricting map as panel reconvenes

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins - Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Republican lawmakers on Thursday unveiled their version of a newly drawn map of state legislative districts on Thursday morning, with a vote planned later in the day on a final version. Democrats criticized the map immediately, saying it preserved unfair GOP majorities in the House and Senate.

The map, a joint creation of House and Senate GOP legislators, reduces the number of counties and cities split between districts as compared to the current maps created in 2011, Ray DiRossi, an aide with the Senate Republican caucus, told the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

DiRossi said the map complies with requirements for legislative districts laid out in the Ohio Constitution. Under questioning from Rep. Emilia Sykes of Akron, the top House Democrat, he acknowledged that the GOP map did not use racial or demographic data at the request of legislative leaders.

The redistricting Commission, charged with drawing a map good for as long as 10 years, missed its Sept. 1 deadline, triggering an extension until the middle of the month. Republican commission members 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.

Senate Democrats submitted their proposed map last week.

Some of the GOP map presented Thursday is almost identical to the Senate Democrats’ version, Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, said Wednesday.

But House and Senate Democrats both criticized the map, saying it preserved a Republican supermajority in the General Assembly they say doesn’t reflect voters’ actual preferences over the past 10 years.

“Unfortunately, what we have seen today is more gerrymandering,” tweeted Sen. Kenny Yuko of Cleveland, the top Senate Democrat. “I was disappointed to see that my Republican colleagues presented maps that continue to unfairly favor one political party.”

Witnesses on Thursday chided the commission for rushing the process, including calling Thursday’s meeting with only 24 hours’ notice and then not providing a copy of the GOP map ahead of time. They also urged the commission to allow for more input from the public and experts.

The process to date “has made me and many others wonder whether this will be a fair mapping assessment and completion, or whether it will be reduced to backroom antics, and more gerrymandered, unfair, embarrassing and undemocratic districts,” Mindy Hedges, a resident of Radnor in Delaware County, told the commission.

The commission plans to vote Thursday afternoon on a proposed map for public review, with three public hearings to follow.

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.

But an Associated Press analysis found that Republican politicians used census data after election victories 10 years ago to draw voting districts that gave them a greater political advantage in more states than either party had in the past 50 years. Voters in Ohio have some of the nation’s most gerrymandered maps, the AP found.

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.

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.

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Associated Press