Monday, Feb 19, 2018
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Redistricting overhaul headed to voters

COLUMBUS — Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on Tuesday praised their ability to work together to avoid a contentious and potentially expensive ballot fight over the inherently political process of redrawing congressional districts every 10 years.

The Ohio House voted 82-10 to send a proposed constitutional amendment to the Secretary of State’s Office for placement on the May 8 primary election ballot. None of the negative votes came from northwest Ohio.

The Senate voted unanimously for the plan Monday night.

Voters will be asked to approve a new process for drawing maps that supporters argue should reduce the ability of the political party in charge to draw district lines designed to keep or tighten its grip on power.

The plan would require significant bipartisan support for enactment of any map that would last a full 10 years until after the next U.S. Census. It would also limit the ability to split numerous counties and cities in order to achieve a desired outcome at the polls.

“We have shown across the nation that here at least in Ohio we still know what leads to compromise, to work across the aisle, to work bipartisanly, and have adult conversations to actually do something for the citizens of our state,” Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R., Clarksville) said.

While there could still conceivably be a “gerrymander” under this process, all sides agree there could be no “snake on the lake.” The 9th District stretches thinly across the Lake Erie shoreline from Toledo to Cleveland, encompassing just pieces of five counties.

It was stretched to pit two veteran Democratic congressmen at its opposite ends against each other in a fight that only one survived — Toledo’s U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

“[Ohio] is one of the worst, most gerrymandered maps in the country,” said state Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D., Kent), a plan supporter. “We have one party walking away with three-quarters of the districts when they’re only getting roughly half the votes. 

“We all hear about the snake along the lake where I believe you actually have to wade through wetlands to stay within the district,” she said.

Currently, the General Assembly passes a new congressional district map with simple majority votes and the governor signs it like any other bill. The current map sends 12 Republicans and four Democrats to Washington.

The coalition of government watchdog, civil rights, voting rights, and labor organizations had been pushing for a November vote to have congressional maps drawn by the bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission voters approved in 2015 to redraw state legislative districts.

The group is a part of the legislative compromise but is expected to continue circulating petitions in case voters reject the May proposal.

The General Assembly’s plan would give the General Assembly the first shot at passing a 10-year map that has the support of three-fifths of the chamber — 60 of 99 in the House and 20 of 33 in the Senate. That vote must include at least half of the minority party members.

If such a vote isn’t possible, then the seven-member bipartisan redistricting commission would take over. With the support of at least two minority members, a commission majority could enact a 10-year map.

If that fails, lawmakers would get one last chance to pass a 10-year map, again with three-fifths majority votes in each chamber and this time with the support of just a third of minority members.

If even that fails, then a simple majority of the General Assembly could pass a map lasting just four years but would face tighter constraints on how the map could be fashioned. It would be barred from drawing districts for partisan gain or to protect incumbents. The final result could be subject to gubernatorial veto or voter referendum.

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

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