Legislative Republicans and Democrats forged a historic agreement early Friday morning to change Ohio’s hyper-partisan process for drawing legislative districts and, supporters hope, give voters a greater say in those elections. After days of closed-door negotiations, including talks that stretched to nearly 2 a.m. this morning, legislative leaders emerged in a rare showing of bipartisan harmony to announce the deal. Rep. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, who negotiated on behalf of House Democrats, noted that he is finishing a 26-year legislative career, and “This is the most significant bipartisan activity that I’ve been involved in in my time here.” Shortly after 4 a.m., the Senate voted 28-1 to pass the plan, and the House is expected to vote on it when it returns to session on Wednesday. Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, voted against it. Both Sykes and Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, the No. 2 House leader and House GOP point person on redistricting, expressed confidence that their caucuses would approve the deal. The deal builds off a bipartisan redistricting plan that passed the House last week. The changes “really make it a better bill,” Huffman said.
Articles about voting issues in Ohio.
The Ohio General Assembly made history early Friday morning when the Senate passed a House-backed redistricting reform plan before adjourning for the session. State lawmakers have debated how to change to Ohio’s process for drawing legislative and congressional districts since 1978 but have never come to an agreement. The Senate voted 28-1 just after 4 a.m. to accept an amended bipartisan plan passed by the House last week. House Joint Resolution 12 now goes to the House for final approval, which is expected next week. If approved, the plan would go before voters in November 2015 for approval to be added to the Ohio Constitution. Friday’s vote followed days of discussion behind closed doors with few signs a compromise would be reached before the Senate adjourned this week. The Senate recessed from the last planned session at 8:30 p.m. so members could caucus with their parties and redistricting language could be drafted. An agreement was reached shortly after 1:30 a.m. Friday.
Senate President Keith Faber said this morning he is 85 percent sure there will be agreement on a legislative redistricting plan that his chamber will pass on Thursday. The House last week passed a redistricting plan with broad bipartisan support that would create a seven-member commission to draw legislative districts. For the maps to take effect for 10 years, they would need approval from at least two minority party members on the commission. Otherwise, the maps must be redrawn again in four years. Under the current system, the party that controls the five-member board gerrymanders districts to its benefit. The House-passed plan provides new criteria on how legislative districts should be drawn, which supporters say reduces the ability to split up communities and gerrymander districts. It also says the commission should attempt to draw maps that do not favor one political party, and create a legislature that reasonably reflects the political makeup of the voting public, a concept known as representational fairness.
Secretary of State Jon Husted expressed optimism this morning that Ohioans will see a revamped process of redrawing legislative districts, although he is pushing for a key change in the current proposal under consideration. A measure passed almost unanimously by the Ohio House calls for a seven-member panel to redraw the districts. The group would include the governor, auditor, secretary of state, and four lawmakers — two from each major party. Only four votes would be required to approve a new map, but two of them must come from members of the minority party. That means the four legislators could draw the maps themselves, without any input from the statewide officials on the panel. ”Essentially, the legislature is granting itself a new constitutional right to draw their own districts without any interference. That is probably my biggest concern about where it stands at the moment,” Husted said during a session this morning at the Ohio State University’s College of Law.
Lawmakers may actually be nearing a long elusive bipartisan compromise to change the highly partisan way Ohio redraws state legislative districts every 10 years. But don’t look for a solution anytime soon on how legislators redraw congressional districts as the newly strengthened Republican majority in Washington has frowned on changing a system that has worked to its advantage. The Ohio House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a proposed constitutional amendment to increase minority input into maps for 99 state House and 33 state Senate districts and improve the chances that races will be more competitive. The Senate president has introduced his own plan in the upper chamber that is also in position for a potential vote this week, likely the last before lawmakers wrap up the two-year session and head for the Statehouse doors for the holidays.
A bipartisan House plan to change the way Ohio draws legislative districts drew high marks from an election-law expert who three weeks ago had no kind words for the House Republicans’ initial proposal. The compromise plan “would be a very significant improvement over the status quo,” said Dan Tokaji, professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law. Unlike the current system, in which the party that controls at least three of the five seats on the apportionment board can rig the legislative districts to protect its majority and create a host of noncompetitive districts, Tokaji said the new plan contains a number of improvements. “Redistricting reform goes to our fundamental right to vote,” he said. “If lines are drawn in such a way that virtually every general-election contest for the legislature is meaningless and we know the outcome in advance, that destroys voters’ faith in the system.”
Republicans and Democrats reached agreement Thursday evening to change how the state draws legislative districts. The Ohio House passed the bipartisan plan in an 80-4 vote Thursday night after hours of deliberation behind closed doors and weeks of deliberation among both parties and chambers about how to improve what has become a hyper partisan process yielding uncompetitive districts. Rep. Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican who sponsored the legislation, said the current process has allowed the majority to abuse its power every time it held the pen. ”What this process does is provide a series of disincentives to the majority to do that,” Huffman said. The proposal now goes to the Senate, which is considering its own redistricting reform plan.
After weeks of public debate and hours of closed-door negotiations, House Republicans and Democrats reached agreement today on changing the process for drawing legislative districts in Ohio. Supporters say the plan would create clearer criteria for drawing maps, give incentive for the majority party to work in a bipartisan manner and make it more difficult to gerrymander districts. “I think it represents some big compromises on the majority’s part,” said Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, before the 80-4 vote. “The majority will not be able to do the kind of things that have happened in the last several years.” Critics say the current system of drawing legislative and congressional districts allows the majority party to rig the districts to their benefit, which solidifies its power, creates a more partisan and dysfunctional government, and dilutes Ohioans’ voting power. “Now, we have a redistricting system that does not require any balance,” said Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington. “I think that has been destructive to the legislative process.” Rep. John Patrick Carney, D-Columbus, called it an imperfect plan but “certainly better than what we have.”
The Ohio Senate president said he anticipates a vote on Thursday on a plan that would change the way the state draws legislative districts. But Democrats already say it won’t go very far to end the partisan gerrymandering that allows the majority party to rig the election system to its benefit. Arguing that discussions are not progressing quickly enough on an already-introduced redistricting plan, Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, rolled out a new plan yesterday that would not alter the current process for creating the congressional map. Faber has said he is reluctant to change the congressional mapping process while there is a case out of Arizona pending before the U.S. Supreme Court on how involved a legislature must be in drawing those districts. Reportedly there has been private push-back from Ohio’s congressional delegation on making changes to the current process, which has provided most members with safe seats. Asked about conversations with U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, Faber would say only that he has spoken to various members of the congressional delegation and there are varying opinions.
State Republicans and Democrats are working to coalesce around a new system for drawing congressional and legislative districts with hopes they can reach the resolution they have promised the public by year’s end. States alter political maps to reflect population shifts identified by the U.S. Census once every 10 years in a process called redistricting. Both parties have acknowledged flaws in Ohio’s setup, which has state lawmakers drawing congressional lines and a state Apportionment Board drawing the districts of state legislators. A panel studying changes to Ohio’s state Constitution had seemed to be zeroing in on a proposal for a new system to put before voters. But some legislative leaders say they don’t want to wait any longer.