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New district maps still unfair

David Skolnick

The second effort to pass state legislative maps went about as well as the first.

Republicans, who make up five of the seven members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, voted for maps that seem to disproportionately favor that political party over the objections of Democrats, and the matter is again before the Ohio Supreme Court to decide its constitutionality.

On the surface the maps look like an improvement from those rejected 4-3 by the court Jan. 12.

The initial maps gave Republicans the advantage in 65 of 99 House districts and in 23 of 33 Senate districts.

The court rejected the maps primarily because they were supposed to reflect partisan statewide election voting trends during the past decade that show Republicans with 54 percent and Democrats with 46 percent.

The court gave the redistricting commission 10 days from the Jan. 12 decision to come up with constitutional maps.

The commission did nothing for about half of those days, held a quick organizational meeting Jan. 18, a brief meeting two days before the deadline and then approved the maps a few hours before the deadline.

It was at that Jan. 20 meeting that we saw initial problems.

While commission members had earlier touted an unheard of bipartisan effort to create maps, disputes between Democratic and Republican mapmakers were revealed, specifically in Hamilton and Franklin counties.

Rather than working with Democrats, Republicans decided to draw their own maps. Then Democrats composed separate maps.

The commission canceled its meeting last Friday because Republicans wanted to be a part of the huge Intel announcement that it’s building a $20 billion facility in Licking County. The commission could have easily met before or after the news conference.

Saturday, the deadline to approve the maps, the commission postponed meetings three times.

When it convened, Senate President Matt Huffman and Auditor Keith Faber, two Republicans on the commission, spent a great deal of time at the meeting in which the GOP-drawn maps were approved criticizing the hastily-drawn Democratic maps as unconstitutional.

The Democratic maps were in compliance with the Supreme Court’s percentage directive — 54 Republican House seats and 45 Democratic ones and an 18-15 Republican to Democratic split in the Senate.

There were problems with those maps, particularly in terms of compactness, and they probably wouldn’t have been considered constitutional by the Supreme Court. But if Republicans had cooperated with Democrats — as they said they would — there would have been no need for such maps.

Instead, Republican members of the commission approved the GOP-drawn maps.

As I mentioned, on the surface it’s an improvement from the initial unconstitutional maps.

It gives Republicans a 57-42 advantage in the House and 20-13 in the Senate. It’s 57.6 percent Republican in the House and 60.6 percent in the Senate.

The Republicans’ refusal to give Democrats another Senate seat in Hamilton County could prove to be costly because that would have brought the Republican Senate percentage down to 57.6 — much closer to the 54-46 split.

Still, a closer look at the maps shows all the truly competitive seats are Democratic ones.

There are a dozen House seats in which Democrats have an advantage of 1 percent or less, while all the Republican House districts give that party at least a 4 percent advantage.

Competition is greatly needed in political races. But when the only competition is for Democratic seats, it isn’t fair.

If there also were a dozen truly competitive Republican districts, then these maps would have been fair.

Democratic experts listed in the lawsuits against the latest maps say Republicans have an advantage in actually 62 House districts.

The Republican “map-drawers’ characterization of the map grossly overestimates the total number of Democratic-leaning districts in the revised House map,” the objectors’ lawsuits state.

Republican mapmakers said they stopped drawing a number of districts once they got to barely over 50 percent for Democrats. They obviously didn’t do the same for Republican districts.

An argument can be made that because Democrats are concentrated in bigger cities it’s difficult to draw maps accurately reflecting the 54-46 split.

But Republicans chose to draw some districts in strong Democratic areas that favor its own political party or give only a slight advantage to the opposition.

The commission will respond to the lawsuits today.

Wednesday is the filing deadline for state Legislature candidates. Rather than extend the deadline, as was done for congressional candidates, Republicans are cutting corners to allow candidates to file for districts that again may be ruled unconstitutional.

Skolnick covers politics for The Vindicator and the Tribune Chronicle.

dskolnick@vindy.com

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