Ohio’s protracted redistricting process will recommence this Wednesday as the state’s redistricting commission looks to finally create state legislative district boundaries that pass constitutional muster after the previous five attempts were swatted down by the Ohio Supreme Court.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, one of five Republicans on the commission alongside two Democrats, is hopeful that the board can pass a map that appeases the state constitution’s guidelines — hopefully in time to conduct the state’s primaries in March — according to his spokesman.
“The governor’s optimistic that we could come to agreement quickly on a map, I know that all the legislative leaders are intent on coming to the table and working together, and yeah, that doesn’t guarantee a mutual outcome, but I think everyone at this stage is starting off optimistic that we can reach an agreement,” said Dan Tierney, spokesperson for DeWine.
The main challenge for Ohio’s map drawers in 2021 and 2022 was getting a map to comply with the state’s new constitutional stipulation that a map’s Republican and Democratic leaning districts ought to closely resemble the statewide preferences of the voters of Ohio over the past ten years.
Last time around, that rule meant the Ohio Redistricting Commission had to aim for a map where about 54% of districts were Republican and 46% of districts were Democrat, Tierney said the commission eventually produced maps that hit those ratios, but the court found other aspects unconstitutional, including how many of those Democratic districts were closer to toss-ups than strongholds.
This time around, the ten-year lookback will be different. The 2012 election that saw Ohio vote for several Democratic candidates is now out of the picture, and will be replaced by data from the 2022 election that saw Ohio vote to re-elect Mike DeWine with over 62% of the vote. Tierney said this swap will inflate the 54% Republican district goal slightly higher.
“The goal here is to have a map that complies with the constitution, that complies with the court orders, and one of the biggest points of contention previously was the statewide partisan breakdown (requirement). Because of the changes in the last election cycle with people favoring one party or the other, the changes should make it easier to adopt a map,” Tierney said.
Whether or not the commission’s next map appeases everyone is a different question. Michael Li, a redistricting expert and senior counsel with New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, involved in litigation regarding Ohio’s recent redistricting process, told the Dayton Daily News that he holds a cynical view of the Ohio Redistricting Commission.
“The political class — Ohio Republicans — have shown that they’re willing to give the middle finger to the rules and to the courts,” said Li.
Li and the Brennan Center have been actively involved in litigation regarding Ohio’s recent redistricting process. He noted that the commission is made up of five Republicans (three of which have their spot through winning their statewide races) and only two Democrats, which in Li’s estimation, places too much power in the hands of the majority — and doesn’t necessarily signify that the commission’s new maps would be any better.
It’s not clear how quickly the commission will draw and pass their next map. Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a member of the commission and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, recently urged his colleagues to pass a map by Sept. 22 in order to give the state’s local boards of elections ample time to prepare for the March primary.
Few decisions on districts are expected to be made Wednesday. Tierney said the meeting is mostly meant to organize the commission, elect leadership, and begin a plan moving forward. The meeting is set for 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Rhodes State Office Tower.
This redistricting process will only determine state House and Senate districts in the Ohio General Assembly. Ohio’s federal congressional districts will remain as they are after opponents last week dropped a legal challenge in the Ohio Supreme Court.