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Published: Monday, 9/26/2011

Voter groups say GOP-drawn Ohio legislative lines reduce competition, ensure Republicans win

ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBUS, Ohio— Republican-drawn boundaries for state legislative districts would further solidify the party's grip on the Ohio Legislature for years to come, voter advocacy groups, including the League of Women Voters, told a state board on Monday.

The Ohio Apportionment Board is charged with redrawing Ohio's legislative districts every 10 years to reflect shifts in population after each census.

One GOP-drawn plan prepared by the board's staff would pit three House Democrats against Republicans, and several other Democrats could end up competing with one another in merged Democratic districts. The map would reduce the number of Senate districts that have a majority population of African Americans from two to one.

Voter advocates at the board's Monday hearing said the staff-prepared plans would diminish the number of competitive districts in the state for the next decade.

The GOP's proposal would leave 20 percent of the state's legislative districts competitive, according to an analysis from the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting, a coalition of 25 Ohio groups.

The campaign found that 51 of the House's 99 districts would strongly favor the GOP and another 10 would lean Republican. House Democrats would be strongly favored in 28 districts, and they could likely count on another five tilting their way. The proposed Senate map would result in 17 of the chamber's 33 districts favoring Republicans, with another four leaning in the GOP's favor. Under the proposal, Senate Democrats could count on nine districts and possibly two others.

The campaign's manager told the board on Monday that the lines could lead to a polarized Legislature where candidates would have to become either more liberal or more conservative in an effort to ensure that their party would win a district.

The only competition would be in the party's primaries, Jim Slagle said. "Most voters will not have a meaningful opportunity to choose their elected representatives."

The maps await the Apportionment Board's approval, which could come at its Wednesday meeting. A majority of the panel must OK the new legislative lines.

Unlike the newly drawn U.S. congressional lines that quickly passed the Ohio Legislature last week, the General Assembly does not vote on maps for state legislative districts. Gov. John Kasich, a first-term Republican, plans to sign the congressional map into law Monday.

As they do in both chambers, Republicans hold a majority of seats on the Apportionment Board. The panel's members consist of four Republicans — Kasich, Senate President Tom Niehaus, Auditor Dave Yost and Secretary of State Jon Husted — and one Democrat, House Minority Leader Armond Budish.

It's chaired by Kasich, who says he supports the GOP staff's proposal. "I trust their judgment," he told reporters after the hearing.

Both chambers' Democratic caucuses, the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting and Illinois state Rep. Mike Fortner also submitted their proposals to the board.

Neither Democratic nor Republican leaders said they knew how many competitive districts their party's plans would create in the state. Each party also claimed its proposed map was more constitutional than the other.

Ann Henkener of the League of Women Voters urged the board to choose maps that increases competition in districts to more accurately reflect Ohio's swing state status.

"Endless maps can be drawn that meet the general criteria set out in the Ohio Constitution," Henkener said. "Because a map is arguably legal, doesn't mean that it is fair, representative and in the interest of voters."

Among other changes, the proposed map would merge Budish's district in Cuyahoga County with that of state Rep. Kenny Yuko, a Democrat from Richmond Heights who can't run next year because of term limits.

Mike Dittoe, a spokesman for the House Republicans, said the lines were fairly drawn as a result of the population changes in the state and they comply with federal and state laws.

Budish said if the GOP staff's maps won the board's approval, he would evaluate what legal options would be available to possibly challenge them.

Republicans holds a 59-40 edge in the House and a 23-10 advantage in the Senate.

Under the current GOP-drawn legislative maps, Democrats managed to take control of the House once, in 2008. The Senate has been in Republican hands since 1984.



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