Sep 12, 2023 - News

Ohio redistricting fight resumes this week

Illustration of the state of Ohio with moving districts inside it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Ohio leaders are back at work this week to begin drawing new Statehouse district maps with less than two weeks before a self-imposed deadline to finish the job.

Why it matters: Their maps could determine the political balance of the Ohio Senate and House for years to come.

  • Republicans currently hold supermajorities in both chambers.

How it works: The Ohio Redistricting Commission is responsible for redrawing the districts every 10 years to reflect the latest Census data.

  • Ohioans amended the state constitution in 2015 and 2018 to devise a more transparent and bipartisan redistricting system that requites maps to proportionately reflect statewide voting trends.

Yes, but: With politicians still in charge ā€” the commission has three state officeholders and four legislative appointees ā€” the new process hasn't gone as some hoped.

Between the lines: That was a calculated choice. Republican Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, who frequently sided with a Democratic minority in ruling against the maps, was term-limited from office at the end of 2022.

  • The present court is more favorable to GOP mapmakers should they face further legal challenges.

What's happening: The commission is under a tight deadline to pass new maps.

  • Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who serves on the commission, wants them approved by next Friday to give proper time for court hearings and candidate filings ahead of the 2024 primaries.
  • The deadline for candidate filings is Dec. 20, and candidates should have lived in their district for at least 30 days before filing.

Separately, Ohio's congressional map is set for next year.

  • Those districts ā€” also deemed unconstitutional ā€” were used last November and produced a disproportionate number of GOP winners. Republicans have a 10-5 seat majority.
  • Groups challenging the map recently reversed course out of fear a new one would be even more unfavorable.
  • Per the state Constitution, the congressional map will be redrawn after 2024 because officials didn't have bipartisan support when they first approved it.

Meanwhile, state officials aren't the only ones going back to the drawing board.

  • Reformers want to change Ohio's redistricting process again to take politicians out of the equation.

What's happening: The group Citizens Not Politicians is organizing a constitutional amendment that could appear on the November 2024 ballot.

Details: The amendment proposes to create a 15-member Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission made up equally of Republicans, Democrats and independents.

  • A bipartisan "screening panel" of retired judges would determine its members.

The intrigue: Current and former politicians, lobbyists, political staffers and their immediate family members would be ineligible to serve on the commission.

  • The commission would hold public hearings around the state before and after releasing map drafts.

If the amendment is on the ballot and approved, the new commission would redraw maps in 2025 and then every decennial census after that.

What they're saying: Catherine Turcer, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause Ohio, says the reforms of 2015 and 2018 were not enough to keep partisan officials from being "drunk on power."

  • "What we've learned is it's not enough to have good rules in the Ohio Constitution," she tells Axios.
  • "We need independent mapmakers who aren't influenced by loyalty to party."

What's next: Organizers need Attorney General Dave Yost's approval to begin collecting signatures for ballot access.

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