Partisan vote again adopts state legislative maps

·5 min read

Jan. 23—COLUMBUS — The Republican-dominated Ohio Redistricting Commission again voted along party lines on Saturday for GOP-drawn legislative district maps, betting it made enough changes to sway at least one member of the state Supreme Court.

The GOP plan purports to create a 57-42 Republican majority in the Ohio House of Representatives and 20-13 in the state Senate. Republicans currently hold 65-34 and 25-8 super-majorities in those respective chambers.

Democrats had proposed maps with ratios of 54-45 and 18-15, closely corresponding with how Ohioans have actually voted over the last decade and the ratio pointed to by the Supreme Court.

"I think we complied with what the Supreme Court said," said Gov. Mike DeWine, one of the commissioners. "...I think it's a fair map. All through this discussion we talked about districts that lean one way or the other, but the reality is, as I've learned from being involved in many races for many years, that ultimately in close districts, it's still going to come down to the candidate, down to what the momentum is for that year, where the voters are that particular year."

Plaintiffs in the current litigation have three days to object to the new lines, and the 5-2 commission majority would have three more to respond. Feb. 2 marks the deadline for candidates to file to run in the May 3 primary election.

In its 4-3 decision rejecting previous maps, the high court found the commission did not "attempt" to draw legislative districts that generally reflected Ohioans' voting preferences as required by gerrymandering reforms state voters approved in 2015. Those early maps, adopted in September, were seen as largely locking in much of the current GOP super-majorities.

Assuming it survives court scrutiny, the new maps' lack of Democratic support means they would last just four years instead of the traditional 10. The whole process would have to start over again in 2025.

Joining Mr. DeWine in supporting the maps were Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Auditor Keith Faber, Senate President Matt Huffman, and House Speaker Bob Cupp. The commission's two Democrats — state Sen. Vernon Sykes (D., Akron) and House Minority Leader-elect Allison Russo (D., Upper Arlington) — again opposed the maps.

In a joint statement, the Democrats said, "It is shameful that we are here again, adopting yet another unconstitutional map in direct contradiction to the Ohio Supreme Court. Ultimately, this is not an issue of geography or technical inability to draw fair maps. It is a lack of political courage and a blatant disregard for the court's order and the will of Ohio voters."

Northwest Ohio generally avoided significant changes from the maps voted out in September. But late changes made Saturday to create an additional Democratic district in Lorain County had domino effects on several counties to its west.

A Republican-friendly district incorporating much of southern Lorain County would swallow nearly the eastern half of Erie County, including the cities of Huron and Vermilion, the village of Berlin Heights, and a piece of northwest Huron County.

Incumbent state Rep. D.J. Swearingen (R., Huron Township) would still reside in the 89th District, now comprised wholly of Ottawa and Erie counties. But the new 89th would undergo major changes, shifting south to pick up most of Huron County.

A piece of Ottawa County — Elmore village and Harris Township — would be surrendered to the 88th District, now consisting of Sandusky and Seneca counties and held by state Rep. Gary Click (R., Vickery).

"I will keep doing the job I am doing at the moment," Mr. Swearingen said. "Everything else is out of my control."

The 89th has been trending more Republican in recent years and the latest proposal would appear to make it even friendlier to the GOP at a time when Democratic gay-marriage advocate Jim Obergefell has announced a challenge.

The original Republican-drawn map struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court would have made no changes to the 89th District and only minor changes to the 88th.

The additional Democratic districts were created primarily in the state's urban centers — Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Akron, and Dayton — and their suburbs.

Democrats, however, contend that 12 of the 42 purported Democratic districts in the House and four of the would-be 13 seats in the Senate would just barely register as "light blue."

Republicans countered that that a 57-42 split was the best that could be done without violating other provisions of the Ohio Constitution requiring geographically compact districts that did not unnecessarily split counties and municipalities.

"We haven't seen a map that does get down to 54 in the House that is compliant with the Ohio Constitution," said the House Republicans' map-maker, Blake Springhetti.

To get to a 54-45 ratio in the House, the Democratic proposal would have created a fourth Toledo-area Democratic-leaning district by combining a piece of eastern Lucas County with all of Ottawa County. Another change would combine much of Erie County with Lorain County shoreline that includes the city of Lorain.

Mr. Huffman (R., Lima), a panel member, compared the latter proposed district to the congressional "snake on the lake," holding it up as one of several in the Democratic plan that he suggested would violate other constitutional requirements.

First Published January 22, 2022, 1:42pm