COLUMBUS — The chief architect of Senate Republicans’ congressional redistricting proposal said Tuesday he’s not inclined to push forward if the plan doesn’t have “substantial Democratic buy-in.”
A scheduled committee vote was put off. Lawmakers have until Feb. 7 to vote to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the May 8 primary ballot.
“It’s a fool’s errand to say we’re just going to put something on the ballot to see if we can pass it,” state Sen. Matt Huffman (R., Lima) said. “Ballot issues that go forward in this state that are partisan on one side have a history of huge failure.”
He said he continues to hold out hope a compromise may be reached at the 11th hour, much as sides came together in 2015 that led to voter-approved changes in how Ohio redraws state House and Senate districts every 10 years.
Talks in recent days led Republicans to make some concessions — agreeing to restore the possibility of a governor’s veto or voter referendum of any map, reducing the number of times counties could be split between districts, and increasing the thresholds of minority party votes needed to adopt a map that would last a full decade.
But so far the plan does not have buy-in from Democrats or the coalition of voting rights, minority rights, labor, and government watchdog organizations seeking to put a competing proposal on the November ballot. That plan would all but take the map-drawing process out of legislative hands.
“There is no prohibition on drawing a map to favor or disfavor one political party over others,” said Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause and a member of the Fair Districts = Fair Elections coalition. “In other words, there’s no prohibition on gerrymandering ... which seems like one of the most basic rules that you’d want.”
It remains to be seen whether Republicans will forge ahead with a possible vote absent bipartisan backing.
The coalition has expressed a willingness to continue to allow lawmakers to control at least part of the map-drawing process — as long as sufficient guardrails were enacted.
“There’s not adequate constraint in there,” Sen. Vernon Sykes (D., Akron) said. “Based on the fact that the state is going to lose a district most likely and we’ll have 15 districts, with this criteria the majority would still be able to craft 12 districts out of 15 that favor it.”
The current map has sent 12 Republicans and four Democrats to Washington to represent Ohio in Congress, despite the fact that voter registration is much tighter than that.
The breakdown in talks likely means a battle lies ahead, whether Republicans opt to forge ahead alone with their own plan on the May ballot or decide to fight the coalition proposal in November.
Fair Districts has until July 4 to file about 306,000 valid signatures of registered voters to qualify for the general election ballot. That plan would generally use the same Ohio Redistricting Commission created three years ago for state legislative districts to now draw congressional lines.
Tuesday’s hearing on the revised proposal turned testy at times with exchanges between the committee’s chairman, Sen. Bill Coley (R., West Chester), and a testifying coalition volunteer as well as with the committee’s ranking Democrat, Youngstown-area Sen. Joe Schiavoni.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.
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