New map making draws skepticism

Now that the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Republican-drawn state legislative maps are unconstitutional, the question is: How will the Ohio Redistricting Commission, which approved the gerrymandered maps, react?

Based on the questionable methods it used to draw the rejected maps, Ohioans should maintain a healthy dose of skepticism.

In the court’s 4-3 decision Wednesday, it gave the commission 10 days to create fair legislative districts that reflect the state’s voting trends over the past decade in partisan elections as well as not carve up counties and communities to make that happen.

It’s a tall order to get approval by Saturday.

The commission, consisting of five Republicans and two Democrats, voted along party lines shortly after the Sept. 15 deadline to approve legislative maps that greatly benefited the GOP.

Because the commission’s two Democrats voted no, the maps were good for only four years. If the two Democrats had supported the maps, they would have been in effect for 10 years.

The court’s decision said the maps should reflect partisan statewide voting results during the past decade, which are 54 percent GOP and 46 percent Democrat. The constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved in 2015 by state voters to change how redistricting is done requires the commission to “attempt to draw a plan in which the statewide proportion of Republican-leaning districts to Democratic-leaning districts closely correspond to those percentages,” Justice Melody Stewart, a Democrat,wrote in the majority decision. The constitution “speaks not of desire but of direction: the commission shall attempt to achieve the standards of that section.”

House Speaker Bob Cupp and Senate President Matt Huffman, Republican redistricting commission members that drove the process, had contended the percentage language was only “aspirational.”

The maps from Cupp and Huffman gave the GOP an advantage in 65 of the 99 House districts and in 23 of the 33 Senate districts. Overall, that’s 67 percent for Republicans and 33 percent for Democrats.

Also, only eight House districts and four Senate districts could be considered competitive in that one political party had an advantage of no more than 6 percent over the other based on voting trends.

The three other Republicans on the panel — Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Auditor Keith Faber — were completely shut out of the mapmaking process. But they still went along for the ride, supporting the new lines despite expressing concerns.

With the Supreme Court ordering new maps by the end of next week and insisting it retains jurisdiction to review the new plan, the commission has to make significant changes.

But will it? I can see Cupp, a former Supreme Court justice, and Huffman again shutting out the rest of the commission’s members from helping draw the maps, make a few changes and still give Republicans a supermajority in the state Legislature.

Also, despite their rhetoric, don’t be surprised to see the other Republicans on the commission back them. The day before the decision, DeWine was defending the gerrymandered maps to me.

The governor said he supported them because they were “more constitutional” with “a significant number of competitive races” in comparison to the Democratic maps. I don’t call 12 out of 132 “significant.”

But after the court’s decision was reached, DeWine said he “will work with my fellow redistricting commission members on revised maps that are consistent with the court’s order.”

An important point is Democrats are largely bunched in the state’s largest cities while Republicans are spread out. The new maps will have to give Democrats a fair percentage of representation while abiding by restrictions that don’t allow communities and counties to be carved up.

That’s going to be difficult.

State Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes and her father, state Sen. Vernon Sykes, the two Democrats on the commission, probably feel they now have the upper hand. But Republicans were satisfied to have four-year maps before and take their chances with a Supreme Court ruling. Will they do it again?

Next up for the Ohio Supreme Court is an expected 4-3 vote rejecting the congressional redistricting map approved by Republican legislators that gave that political party a 12-3 advantage with one Republican and one Democratic district being true tossups.

When that anticipated decision comes out, Republican legislators also will be on the clock to draw a more fair map.

— Skolnick covers politics for The Vindicator and the Tribune Chronicle, sisters Ogden Newspapers of the Salem News, the Morning Journal and The Review.



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