Ohio redistricting group eyes Saturday deadline

COLUMBUS — The Ohio Redistricting Commission met on Tuesday to publicly outline the ground rules it will follow before Saturday’s deadline set by a court order directing the commission to draw legislative maps of more states. politically representative.

Governor Mike DeWine called the meeting of the seven-member commission, the first step toward eventual approval of a new set of maps. The meeting follows Wednesday’s 4-3 decision by the Ohio Supreme Court that dismissed the commission’s latest set of Republican-approved maps as unconstitutional under Ohio’s new anti-gerrymandering rules.

Other meetings of the redistricting commission could be announced soon, including possibly those during which public testimony would be authorized. On Tuesday, DeWine reviewed highlights from last week’s Supreme Court decision, which ordered the commission to draw maps that favor Republicans and Democrats to win districts in as close proportions as possible. from 54% to 46% of the statewide vote. each party received in recent elections, while following geographic map drawing rules, including those limiting how maps can divide counties.

House Speaker Bob Cupp, a Republican from Lima who co-chairs the commission, said commission members were working to comply with the court order, which rejected Republican arguments that the creation of politically proportionate districts was optional. Further, the court clarified that the constitutional language that districts should match statewide voter preferences referred to each party’s vote share, not their share of electoral wins, as the Republicans tried to argue it.

Cupp also said his goal was to have the commission approve the 10-year maps, which would require votes from both Democrats on the commission. Otherwise, the cards would only be valid for four years.

“The court has defined certain previously undefined terms,” ​​Cupp said. “They filled in some of the blanks, in terms of what criteria to use, as well as what is binding in the commission versus what is permissive. And so we work together to implement these ideas.

At Tuesday’s meeting, DeWine swore in State Rep. Allison Russo, an Upper Arlington Democrat whom minority Democrats chose as their caucus leader last week, as the new member of the committee. She joins six other commission members: DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, State Auditor Keith Faber, Senate Speaker Matt Huffman, House Speaker Bob Cupp — all Republicans — and Democratic Senator Vernon. Sykes.

Commission members had little to say about a different timeline for approving a new congressional map after the court also rejected on Friday a Republican plan that DeWine signed into law last November. This map would have favored the Republicans to win at least 12 of Ohio’s 15 congressional seats, which would likely have caused the Democrats to lose at least a one-seat loss compared to the current map, in effect since 2011.

“Right now we’re focusing on the legislative because the timeline is so much shorter, and then we’ll get into the Congressional conundrum as well,” Cupp said.

The aides to the Republican and Democratic legislative leaders who will actually draw the new state legislative maps met on Monday to go over the basic process of how they could work together. Small as it is, it’s a significant change from the last round of redistricting, when Cupp and Huffman wouldn’t grant other commission members access to their mapping experts, putting them in a secret location that was even kept from their Republican colleagues. In its ruling, the court criticized Cupp and Huffman’s dominance of the process, citing as evidence that the commission did not even attempt to draw maps that were politically neutral or proportionate.

“Those who have actually looked at the maps and have this data in front of them have been talking to each other,” DeWine said during Tuesday’s meeting. “I think that’s all being done, and I’d like the record to reflect that.”

However, the commission announced that it had agreed on the legal deadline for approving a new cartographic plan. In its decision last Wednesday, the Supreme Court gave the redistricting commission 10 days to propose new constitutional maps. Legal observers initially said Monday, Jan. 24, would be the likely deadline, as Supreme Court rules don’t allow legal deadlines to weigh in over a weekend.

But commission members said on Tuesday their attorneys agreed the deadline was actually Saturday, 10 days after the court order was issued.

Although they will likely try to maximize their political advantage in how new districts are drawn, Republicans may be locked in by the Supreme Court order.

That’s because the majority opinion, in which Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor joined the court’s three Democrats, pointed to a proposed set of maps submitted during the trial as an example of a constitutional plan. The court also wrote that if it was possible to draw maps that complied with the state constitution, including geographic and political requirements, the commission “must adopt a plan that does so.”

The plan was developed for the plaintiffs by Stanford University professor Jonathan Rodden. Rodden’s plan would have favored Republicans to win 56% of the state’s legislative seats, compared to the 66% advantage Republicans drew in the cards the court rejected.

“Dr. Rodden drew a plan that was consistent with [the state constitution], and that is more commensurate with voter preferences statewide than the plan adopted by the commission,” the court said in its majority decision last week.

Specifically, Rodden’s plan would draw a Senate map likely to produce an 18-15 Republican majority in the Senate and a 56-43 Republican majority in the House. If such a map passes, eight Republican House members and seven Republican senators would be drawn into Democratic-leaning districts, putting the GOP in danger of falling below the 60% threshold it needs to maintain its supermajority in office. test of the veto.

Because the constitution also sets boundaries on which counties can be divided and because of the concentration of Democratic voters in more densely populated areas, the Republican lawmakers most likely to have their seats removed would be from more urban and suburban.

If the commission draws maps perfectly proportional to the statewide vote, Republicans would be favored to hold 54 House seats and 18 Senate seats. But geographic rules in the state constitution could make it harder for the commission to work — and Republicans argued that was impossible.

Russo said at Tuesday’s meeting that the commission’s goal should be perfect political proportionality.

“I expect us to follow what the court has told us very clearly,” she said.

LaRose, a Republican who is the state’s top election official, at Tuesday’s meeting urged the commission to work as quickly as possible. He wrote letters to Cupp and Huffman on Tuesday asking for flexibility to move election-related technical deadlines.

The nomination deadline for state legislative candidates running in the upcoming May primary is Feb. 2. But there are preliminary administration-related deadlines that come before that, including one this weekend.

“Ohioans deserve an accurate and accessible primary election. And as this process continues, we are starting to get perilously close to the point where it could become logistically impossible,” LaRose said.

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