When the current boundaries for the Ohio House, Senate, and Congressional Districts were drawn ten years ago, much of that work was done behind closed doors by a handful of Republican lawmakers. Since then, the Ohioans have enacted new rules on the redistribution process to make it more open and accountable. But here, too, the question arises whether most of the work is done in secret.
The Ohio Redistricting Commission will draw lines for state legislature counties and held a seven-minute meeting with all seven members at its first meeting earlier this month.
Since then, public meetings have taken place across the state, but not all members of the commission have attended.
Commissioner Governor Mike DeWine was spotted doing pre-season training for the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday, but did not attend the Cincinnati meeting on Tuesday. So what he didn’t hear was former Ohio Democratic Party leader David Pepper accusing majority Republicans on the committee of secretly collaborating with their peers to privately create a gerrymandered card.
“It’s just wrong to hide it under lock and key somewhere and scurry around to keep everyone from finding out,” Pepper said.
There were no sessions on the map of Congress, which is created by state lawmakers. This map will have 15 districts, which means that Ohio’s congressional delegation of 12 Republicans and four Democrats will be reduced by one.
Republican Senate President Matt Huffman said he and other commissioners are holding talks on the process. However, he is unaware that Republicans are currently drawing cards outside of public control.
“Behind closed doors, I know that’s a metaphor, but someday somebody has to do something, and that’s probably not on the statehouse lawn,” said Huffman.
Meetings did not begin until after the U.S. census data used to create the maps was delivered to the states. But at the commission hearing in Lima, Ohio League of Women Voters President Jen Miller was greeted with applause when she said the hearings should have started months ago.
“Instead, the public had no control over how the data was cleaned, verified, or presented. We have had no control over the partisan indexing, which is a political choice, and I would argue that doing so goes against the letter and spirit of these reforms, and possibly the letter. Long before the data came in, you should have asked the public and experts for input on how to define things like population equality, minority representation, representational justice and other issues, ”Miller said.
Miller indicated that her group was ready to hand the redistribution straight to voters, but in the end involved lawmakers in the process, reminding them that they must be accountable to voters.
Democratic Senator Vernon Sykes, who is also part of the redistribution committee, said voters asked for it when they passed the new redistribution reforms as constitutional amendments in 2015 and 2018.
“They insist on fairness and openness and I think it’s important for us to have more public discussions about what’s going on. (Applause) It’s extremely important. I don’t think this should be done the way we do with the budget, where the conference committee reports come out just in time to announce the results, ”said Sykes.
Republican House spokesman and committee co-chair Bob Cupp said he would continue to work with Democrats on the rules of the process. Changing the cards for the districts of state lawmakers will require at least three public hearings and a vote on a card by Wednesday – a deadline that Cupp said could be difficult to meet.
“I think most of us are determined to have multiple hearings on cards regardless of whether the September 1st deadline can be met. As you know, the census data should be available in April and was only available about a week ago. So it is very difficult to check all of these rules and get the things that you ask them to get done in such a short amount of time, and that is the complication here, “said Cupp.
The deadline for the Congress card is a little later – September 30th. And at least two public hearings would be required before lawmakers can vote on that card.
However, proponents of an open reallocation process say they want to make sure the state doesn’t end up with cards like the current one, which national analysts have described as some of the most manipulated in the country.
“This is a state that has voted 55-45 Republicans / Democrats in the last 10 years. That means you should have between six and seven, or even eight Democrats in a good year, in Congress. If they draw a card that has about 12 Republicans and three Democrats, or 13-2, the language in the constitution should now mean the card is knocked down and thrown away, ”Pepper said.
A lawsuit could not be ruled out as it happened last time. The cards have been confirmed. But that was before the new voter-approved redistributive reforms.
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