COLUMBUS — Senate Republicans on Wednesday delayed a vote on changes to the inherently political process by which Ohio redraws congressional districts.
Talks are under way with those pushing a competing reform plan in hopes of reaching a compromise that could mean voters would be presented with one less ballot question on the subject this year.
“If I wasn’t optimistic of the chances of that happening, I wouldn’t have started down this path to begin with,” Senate President Larry Obhof (R., Medina) said. But he said it is unlikely Senate Republicans would agree with a plan in which the General Assembly would entirely relinquish control of the process to an outside entity.
State Sen. Mike Skindell (D., Lakewood), a committee member, said Republicans are talking more with Fair Districts Ohio, the coalition of groups pushing a November ballot initiative, than with Senate Democrats.
“As a result of the drawing of the districts after the last census, 12 of these districts are heavily leaning Republican and four are heavily leaning Democrat — a 75 percent, 25 percent split between the parties,” said Benita Kahn of Bexley, an opponent of the GOP proposal.
“A review of the presidential election results in Ohio going back to 1960 shows that during these 57 years no statewide election ever resulted in this same percentage split between Republicans and Democrats,” she said.
The Senate is expected to act on Senate Joint Resolution 5 next week in hopes the House of Representatives would act before the Feb. 7 deadline to put the question on the May 8 ballot.
Among issues being discussed are whether a new map could be subjected to voter referendum or gubernatorial veto and how much minority support would be required.
They are also debating whether the plan should require “representational fairness,” the concept that the overall partisan breakdown of districts should somewhat resemble that of the state as a whole. That concept is in the Fair Districts proposal but not in the Senate plan.
“The coalition proposal … enshrines in our constitution that districts are drawn based upon the likelihood that one party will win that race,” said state Sen. Matt Huffman (R., Lima), the resolution’s sponsor.
Mr. Skindell held up the 8th District in which he lives as an example of what’s wrong with the current map. Represented by U.S. Rep. Marcy Katpur, a Toledo Democrat, the district hugs the Lake Erie shoreline from Toledo to Cleveland.
“I always joke that one of my favorite restaurants, Tony Packo’s in Toledo, is now in my congressional district, but I still have to drive an hour and 45 minutes to get to it,” he said.
The Senate plan would keep lawmakers’ fingers on at least part of the process and sets up the possibility of majority Republicans acting with no Democratic support if they are content to enact maps lasting four years at a time rather than 10.
Currently the General Assembly enacts maps after each federal census via a bill signed by the governor.
Fair Districts Ohio — a coalition of government watchdog, labor, civil rights, and voting rights organizations — is pushing a proposed constitutional amendment that would put the pencil entirely in that hands of a state commission established in 2015 to redraw state legislative districts.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.