Revisiting redistricting mess

David Skolnick

When it comes to redistricting, Gov. Mike DeWine is clear he wants nothing to do with it, but the fact is he has no choice.

DeWine sits on the seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission that will convene at some point this year to approve state legislative maps and possibly a congressional map. The state Legislature gets the first opportunity, if it chooses, to create a congressional map.

The redistricting commission consists of five Republicans — DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Auditor Keith Faber and one appointee each from the Ohio House and Senate — as well as two Democrats — one appointee each from the state House and Senate.

During the last round of redistricting, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected five state legislative maps drawn by the commission and two congressional maps, one by the General Assembly and the second by the commission, saying they were unconstitutional as they unfairly favored Republicans.

Republicans gained greater advantages in the state House and Senate, but lost two congressional seats.

Those delays resulted in the state holding a special August election, at a cost of $20 million to $25 million, for state legislative and state central committee seats with record low turnout.

While DeWine said during and after the process that he was concerned with how it was handled — and admitted being left out of the map-drawing process — he voted in favor of the maps every time.

Because of the unconstitutional rulings, the maps must be redrawn for the 2024 election, meaning it needs to be done this year. Dec. 20 is the filing deadline for the 2024 primary, which is moved up to March during presidential years.

It will be considerably easier to get maps approved by the Ohio Supreme Court this time around.

That’s because Maureen O’Connor, the Republican chief justice, had to retire because of the state’s age limit on judges. She sided all seven times with the three Democrats on the bench in 4-3 decisions to reject the maps.

With Joe Deters, a loyal Republican and former state treasurer, on the court, the decisions will almost certainly be 4-3 in favor of maps Republicans draw.

Under constitutional amendments by voters to change the redistricting process, the maps will be in place for four years if they don’t get Democratic support. It’s 10 years with Democratic support.

DeWine said in an interview with this newspaper earlier this month that the amendments “were well-intended,” received bipartisan support “and everyone thought it would work and the reality is it didn’t work. It didn’t work very well at all, so I think we have to try something else in the long run.”

He acknowledged that a fix will take time.

“In the short run, we’re stuck with what we have and we’ll have to play it out,” he said. “But in the long run, we probably need to take a deep breath and take a look at this again. We’re stuck with it. We’ll have to play it out now until there’s a change in the constitution.”

DeWine told The Blade of Toledo last week: “Taking it out of the hands, frankly, of elected officials is probably a good idea. How we do that, though, to makes sure it is done in an impartial way, is a difficult challenge.”

O’Connor has advocated for an independent commission, without any public and / or elected officials serving, to draw maps. That is done in nine states.

Getting such a proposal on the ballot, possibly as soon as next year, is going to be a challenge because of the signature requirement.

Republicans expect state Supreme Court support for their maps and don’t mind redistricting every four years without Democratic backing.

Another potential obstacle is the General Assembly again will consider putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot as soon as November to increase the threshold to pass future amendments to 60 percent approval rather than current simple majority. That potential constitutional amendment needs only a simple majority to pass.



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