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.
Currently, a five-member apportionment board composed of the governor, state auditor, secretary of state and two members of the legislature draws new legislative boundaries every 10 years coinciding with the U.S. Census. The current panel comprises four Republicans and one Democrat.
House Joint Resolution 12, passed Thursday, would add two lawmakers — one each from the majority and minority parties — to the panel. Four votes, including at least two from minority party members, would be needed to approve a map. A map that doesn’t receive minority support would still go into effect, but for four years instead of 10, allowing a new panel to redraw the lines.
The resolution also sets rules that respect geographical boundaries and political subdivisions to guide the panel drawing the districts. Maps could not be drawn “primarily to favor or disfavor a political party” and the proportion of districts leaning toward one party or another must resemble the whole state’s preferences in recent elections. In 2012, House Democrats received 51 percent of total votes statewide, but the current legislative map favors Republicans in 62 of 99 House seats, according to analysis by the League of Women Voters of Ohio.
Voters would have to approve the plan in 2015 for it to become part of the Ohio Constitution.