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.
Huffman said the proposal adds clarity in how maps should be drawn. “I don’t know ultimately that the maps the public will see at first glance will look different, but they will be, in fact, the product of a much better process,” he said.
Under the current system, the party that controls the five-member board consisting of three statewide officeholders and two legislators can gerrymander districts to its benefit. Critics say that creates a host of uncompetitive districts, secures power for that party, dilutes voters’ power and can lead to a more partisan and dysfunctional government.
The party that does not control the board has almost no say in how districts are drawn.