COLUMBUS — As the Ohio Senate rushes toward passage this week of a Republican proposal to overhaul how Ohio’s congressional districts are redrawn, an outside coalition pushing its own plan said Monday it would fight the lawmakers’ plan at the polls.
“I think we have no choice,” said Sam Gresham, chairman of Common Cause Ohio and a member of Fair Districts Ohio. “We’ve been out here for years coming up with fair legislative districts. And we passed a proposal in 2015 [for state legislative districts]. We’re not going to give up simply because they’ve put a proposal forward.”
Fair Districts is a coalition of government watchdog, labor, and voting-rights organizations. It would have to finance an opposition campaign to convince voters to reject the legislative proposal in May while circulating petitions for its own proposal for November.
Should both pass, the second would supersede the first.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 5, sponsored by state Sen. Matt Huffman (R., Lima), is on the fast track for passage in the Senate as soon as this week. Republicans then hope to clear the Ohio House of Representatives before a Feb. 7 deadline to get the question before voters on the spring ballot.
The current map, which took effect in 2012, has yielded 12 Republicans and four Democrats representing Ohio in the U.S. House of Representatives. The next, to be drawn in 2021, would likely have 15 districts to fashion because Ohio may lose another representative as a result of weak population growth.
The Fair Districts plan would place responsibility entirely in the hands of the same seven-member commission approved by voters in 2015 for state House and Senate districts. That commission consists of the governor, secretary of state, state auditor, and two Democrats and two Republicans appointed by legislative leaders.
Mr. Huffman said the rules on line drawing in the coalition’s proposal, such as restrictions on dividing counties, are too restrictive.
“This means that no elected official, no appointed official by an elected official, no independent commission is going to draw the maps,” he said last week. “A judge is going to draw the maps forever in the state of Ohio.”
The GOP plan would keep legislators’ fingerprints on the process. The General Assembly could pass a map with supermajority votes with support of at least a third of the minority. If that fails, they would punt to the same commission created in 2015, which would need at least two minority votes to enact a 10-year map.
If that fails, the commission could pass with a simple majority a map that would last four years. The General Assembly would then get one last chance to turn the four-year commission map into a 10-year map with a simple-majority vote, including at least a fifth of the minority.
If that also fails, the commission map would take effect, and the process would start over again after four years.
“So long as they can continue to break up large counties — and they’ve given themselves permission to do that — there will be really no limits on drawing partisan districts,” Ann Henkener, the League of Women Voters’ redistricting specialist, said of the Huffman proposal.
The legislative plan offers “plenty of opportunity to draw the same type of districts that we have right now with the same lopsided partisan makeup of the districts,” she said.
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