Monday, Feb 19, 2018
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Remap talks stall again

COLUMBUS — Talks broke off again this week, and the Ohio House and Senate went home without action on changing how congressional districts are redrawn every decade.

Wednesday marks the deadline for lawmakers to pass a resolution to put a proposed constitutional amendment before voters on the May 8 primary election ballot.

While Senate Republicans said they consider negotiations to be ongoing, Catherine Turcer, a leader in the coalition promoting a competing ballot issue, said Thursday she doesn’t see it that way.

She said Fair Districts = Fair Elections ended talks late Wednesday night when they couldn’t convince Senate Republicans to include a statement prohibiting the practice of gerrymandering.

“We’d really like to see a clear rule prohibiting gerrymandering, a really simple line that says map-keepers shall not draw districts to favor or disfavor one political party over another,” Ms. Turcer said.

Discussions have taken place off and on this week with Republicans introducing a revised plan they said addressed some of the concerns raised by the coalition and Democrats. It would increase the threshold of minority party support needed to pass a map lasting a full 10 years and reduce the number of counties that could be divided between districts.

It would continue to give a large role to lawmakers in drawing the maps, something the coalition has expressed a willingness to accept as long as enough constraints are put in place to prevent passage of a partisan map.

“We’re really kind of down to fundamental principles,” Mr. Huffman said Wednesday during a break in the talks. Senate Republican spokesman John Fortney said Thursday it’s possible discussions could resume over the weekend.

The coalition’s proposal, which they hope to get on the Nov. 6 ballot, would give the responsibility entirely to the bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission that voters approved in 2015 to redraw state legislative districts. The commission would consist of the governor, secretary of state, auditor, and two members each appointed by Republican and Democratic legislative leaders.

The current map created 12 reliably Republican districts and four densely Democratic districts.

While Ms. Turcer said increasing the demand for bipartisan support for any 10-year map was helpful, that would not eliminate the potential for “sweetheart deals” in which Republicans and Democrats join forces to gerrymander districts that meet their own mutual goals.

“When it came down to it, they just didn’t hear us,” she said.

Senate Republicans are suspicious of the requirement in the coalition’s plan that would require “representational fairness,” meaning the final map should include a ratio of districts that more closely resembles the state’s voting performance.

Republicans argue it could lead to a kind of reverse gerrymandering, in which map-drawers walk in with the goal of creating a certain number of districts favoring one party and a certain number that favor another. They also question whether future maps might have to make way for Libertarian, Green, or other minor party districts should they have strong showings in Ohio elections.

Contact Jim Provance at jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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