redistricting Ohio lawmakers, groups reach deal on proposal

Staff/wire report


A compromise between state lawmakers and voting-rights advocates over how Ohio draws its congressional maps is headed to the May ballot after clearing the state Legislature on Tuesday.

The constitutional amendment is aimed at curbing gerrymandering, the manipulation of district boundaries for political advantage, amid national concern that the current districts are contributing to partisanship, gridlock and incivility in Washington.

The deal emerged from marathon talks among Democrats, Republicans and voter advocacy groups, clearing the Republican-controlled Senate in a unanimous vote on Monday.

It ran into some opposition in the House on Tuesday, where state Rep. Alicia Reece, a Cincinnati Democrat, expressed exasperation that a single line stating that voting is Ohioans’ constitutional right was excluded.

Reece, who is black, said 100,000 Ohioans petitioned for the wording.

Others, including Republican House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger and Democratic state Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a candidate for secretary of state, praised it as the bipartisan compromise Ohioans have been awaiting for decades.

“I’m proud of this compromise,” Rosenberger said in an unusual floor speech. “I’m proud of the example we’ve been able to show not only to 11 million Ohioans but to our nation as a whole.”

He urged a unanimous vote like the Senate’s, but members delivered one of 83-10.

State Rep. John Boccieri, one of only 10 Ohio House members to vote against the redistricting plan, said the proposal was “rushed through for political reasons so it can beat the citizens-led initiative to the ballot box. A more favorable process does not equal a fair process and we need more time to come together to ensure this outcome.”

Boccieri of Poland, D-59th, said: “Burning a process into the state constitution because we cannot break through the partisanship of a rigged system is an indictment of our present political status. Colleague after colleague said they are hopeful this will bring about better relationships. I submit to my constituents that hope is not a strategy.”

Compared with the current system, the proposal would reduce how many counties are split into multiple districts, allowing only about one-fourth of Ohio’s 88 counties to be divided into more than one district.

The proposal also would require support from at least half of the minority party in each chamber to get a 10-year map approved by the Ohio Legislature. If the House and Senate can’t reach such an agreement, the map-making process would move to an existing bipartisan commission. If that were to fail, the majority party eventually could make a shorter-term four-year map under more restrictions.

If voters approve the amendment, the coalition of groups known as Fair Districts = Fair Elections wouldn’t go forward with the separate redistricting ballot issue for which it has been gathering signatures to put before voters in November.

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