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Northeast Ohioans express disappointment in Ohio Redistricting Commission's proposed maps

A resident stands in front of a podium in front of the Ohio Redistricting Commission. Members are seated behind a table.
Abigail Bottar
Ideastream Public Media
A Summit County resident testifies in front of the Ohio Redistricting Commission on Sep. 25, 2023.

The Ohio Redistricting Commission held its second of four public hearings at Punderson State Park in Geauga County today. The commission is working to approve new state House and Senate maps, but opponents say the latest maps are yet another attempt to gerrymander the state legislature in Republican's favor.

This is the latest attempt from the commission to pass constitutional maps after a years-long saga of unconstitutional maps, political fighting and gerrymandering. Some who have analyzed the latest proposed maps say they would give Republicans an even bigger supermajority than they already have. The maps are thought to give Republicans a 23-10 advantage in the Senate and a 62-37 advantage in the House. The majority Republican commission voted to adopt the maps as the set they'll work from to develop final maps last week. Republicans argue the maps do a good job of keeping cities together.

Northeast Ohioans packed the meeting and shared their disappointment with the latest maps. Most were critical of the new maps and how the commission has operated.

Stephen Michael Kellat lives in Ohio House District 99, which includes northern Ashtabula and Geauga counties. He takes issue with the new state House map, which also splits Ashtabula into two districts, because he said it gives Republicans an unfair advantage.

"This is cracking and packing. You're literally taking your Democratic stronghold in northern Ashtabula County, and you're attaching it to a predominantly Republican County," Kellat said. "So all those Democratic voices are silenced."

Kellat proposed a solution for the commission.

“Keep Ashtabula County whole," Kellat said. "That’s a competitive district.”

State Auditor Keith Faber responded in agreement with Kellat.

"What I heard you saying was that you want to keep cities, counties and townships as whole as possible," Faber said, "and I tend to agree with that."

However, State Sen. Rob McColley disagreed that Ashtabula County would be a competitive district.

"I would also point out that Ashtabula County as an index is 57.5% Republican," McColley said.

Others who testified, like Montville resident Kevin Morgan, said they were disappointed that the Republican dominated commission continues to produce gerrymandered maps.

“I’m a registered Republican and frankly disgusted by the redistricting committee’s goal to gerrymander districts," Morgan said.

William Kennedy of Geauga County said he doesn't feel represented by the current state legislature.

"The state of Ohio is much more diverse, much more tolerant and much more generous than the Statehouse that represent us are," Kennedy said.

The commission is running against the clock, as the new maps will be used in the 2024 election. The filing deadline to run is Dec. 20, but candidates who may have to move to have established residency in a new district must do so by Nov. 20.

The commission added an additional public hearing Monday at 5:30 p.m. at Punderson State Park. Many residents complained that Monday's hearing didn't allow Jewish Ohioans to testify, since they are observing Yom Kippur. The additional evening hearing will will allow Ohioans who work during the day to participate, State Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio said. Faber called holding the hearing on Yom Kippur a mistake.

The final public hearing will be held Tuesday Sep. 26 at 10:00 a.m. at the Ohio Statehouse.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.