On Monday night, the Ohio state Senate did something truly unprecedented: With near-unanimous support from both Republicans and Democrats, the chamber approved Senate Resolution 5, a measure that would for the first time require bipartisan input and approval for federal congressional maps. The measure is expected to pass the state House today, and it will appear on the ballot in the May primary elections to get final approval from voters. As it stands, there are few state guidelines on federal redistricting in Ohio. As in most states, the power to create maps rests with the state legislature, which usually means that the party in power—right now, it’s the GOP—ends up calling the shots. There are also few requirements for community disclosure or involvement. The only real constraints that exist are those under federal court rulings and the Voting Rights Act, which prohibit racial gerrymandering and ensure districts have roughly the same populations. So far, the result of those limited rules has been a congressional map that, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, has consistently led to Republican partisan bias.
Senate Resolution 5 would change all that. The proposal would require three-fifths support of the entire legislature to pass a map for use over a 10-year period. The three-fifths must include 50 percent of all members of the minority party. The resolution also sets forth a maximum number of counties that can be split by congressional districts, a provision that should affect district compactness.
If the legislature cannot create maps that follow these rules and secure the requisite support, the task would fall to a seven-member bipartisan commission. Their maps would have to win support from at least two of the minority members of the commission for the adoption process to continue. If the commission fails, the resolution creates two more contingencies: Either the legislature can have another go at creating a 10-year map—this time, only having to secure a third of the minority party’s votes—or it could create a map that only lasts for four years and has much stricter compactness requirements. That four-year map would require a simple majority.