Legislators likely to miss deadline for new congressional map

Republican Sen. Steve Huffman says there has been not action on proposed congressional maps for Ohio. (AP Photo/Al Behrman, File)
Republican Sen. Steve Huffman says there has been not action on proposed congressional maps for Ohio. (AP Photo/Al Behrman, File)

Credit: Al Behrman

Credit: Al Behrman

The deadline for a new map that pares down Ohio’s 16 congressional districts to 15 will mostly likely not be met by the end of the month, Ohio legislators say.

Ohio must lose one of its 16 U.S. House seats, in accordance with 2020 census results: the state’s population grew, but more slowly than the rest of the country. According to 2020 census data, each of the 15 new districts will contain about 780,000 people.

The General Assembly has until Thursday to approve a new congressional map, but if legislators can’t reach the required level of agreement by then, the job goes back to the Ohio Redistricting Commission, which finished its last-second ratification of new state House and Senate maps last week.

“There really hasn’t been any work done on congressional districts,” state Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said after that vote.

The Ohio Redistricting Commission, consisting of three statewide elected officials and four state legislators, approved new state legislative district maps just at or after a midnight Sept. 15 deadline. It was a 5-2 partisan vote with no support from the panel’s two Democrats, meaning the maps will have to be redone in four years instead of lasting for 10.

A new congressional map would need to pass each house by a 3/5 majority– but to be valid, that vote must include at least half of each chamber’s Democrats. That means four Senate Democrats and 18 House Democrats.

“I like being an optimist and I hate being a pessimist, but the deadline that’s Sept. 30, I think it’s going to be – under the circumstances – difficult to meet for a couple of reasons,” Huffman said.

The state constitutional rules for congressional redistricting require a greater majority than state House and Senate redistricting did, and mandate more support from Democrats to approve a valid map, he said.

Detailed data from the 2020 census was released four months late, meaning legislative staff didn’t get it until mid-August or so, Huffman said. At that point they worked 16- to 18-hour days for 25 days to assemble new state House and Senate maps, he said.

In that light, starting from scratch and finishing new congressional maps in two weeks would be “very impractical,” Huffman said.

Redistricting commission co-chair Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, declined to comment, according to Senate Democrats Communications Director Guilia Cambieri.

Aaron Mulvey, press secretary for commission co-chair House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, said Tuesday there were no updates to share on congressional redistricting.

If legislators can’t agree, the redistricting commission will take over. Like the state House and Senate maps, a new congressional map would have to get four votes from commissioners, including the votes of both Democratic members.

The 2018 state constitutional amendment on congressional redistricting specifies a commission very similar to the one which just passed state House and Senate district maps. The seven-member body includes Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Auditor Keith Faber, one person appointed by the speaker of the state House, one appointed by the president of the state Senate, and two appointed by legislative minority leaders.

In practice, those seats were filled by Cupp, Huffman, Vernon Sykes, and House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, D-Akron. That gives Republicans a 5-2 edge.

If the redistricting commission cannot approve a bipartisan map by Oct. 31, the job goes to the General Assembly once again, which must act by Nov. 30.

If lawmakers at that point can approve a map by a 3/5 majority vote, including at least 1/3 of Democrats – three in the House and 12 in the Senate – then the map will last for a decade.

Failing that, the General Assembly can pass a map by a simple majority vote, but like the recently approved state legislative map it would only be in force for four years.

The new district map must not be drawn to favor or disfavor a political party, not “unduly split” counties, townships or cities, must create districts that are compact and contiguous, and must comply with state and federal laws, including those protecting minority voting rights. The map has to include an explanation of how it meets those requirements.

For places with more people than allowed in one congressional district, the new lines should seek to include a “significant portion” in one district, along with similar nearby populations.

Cities and townships with at least 100,000 people – but not more than the limit for one district – can’t be split unless there is another city or township of at least 100,000 in the same county. In that case, the smaller one can be split.

The new boundaries can’t split up a county unless it has more than 400,000 people. That applies to only six counties in Ohio, containing the cities of Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Akron, Dayton and Toledo.

The General Assembly must hold at least two public committee hearings before passing a map. If the process goes to the redistricting commission, that body must hold at least two more public hearings. The commission must also allow the public to submit proposed maps, as was done in the state House and Senate map process.

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