Ohio Redistricting Bills Met with Criticism

Ohio's current congressional districts (Secretary of State)
Ohio's current congressional districts (Secretary of State)
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The Constitutional Modernization Commission had looked at various options for improving redistricting, a process that’s generally blamed for creating legislative and congressional districts that favor one party over another. The panel was very close to bringing a plan forward. But now, two new bills have surfaced.

Republican Representative Matt Huffman is the sponsor of these new plans.

“The redistricting proposal that we have basically requires the minority party to vote on the map and approve any new redistricting maps, both congressional and for state legislative seats," Huffman said. "So that would be the first in a new proposal for the state of Ohio. And if that’s not achievable, if the minority won’t approve it, then the map, essentially -- it's then left up to the voters."

Huffman said his plans encourage cooperation and would ensure the resulting map is fair.

"One of the problems that we have now and the problem this is designed to address is that the majority party basically can look at the minority party and say, 'We're going to do whatever we want,'" he said. "And there’s only a few things the minority party can do to keep that from happening. Essentially this process puts the process on a much fairer ground.”

Huffman’s plans take the courts and the governor out of the map-approval process. Instead, a map dispute would go to voters as a ballot issue. But critics of the plan say that would also be unfair.

Dan Tokaji, a professor at the OSU Moritz College of Law, said voters could be steered to vote “no” by the issue’s wording.

“I can tell you with virtual certainty what the outcome of those voters will be no matter what," Tokaji said. "Why? Because people distrust the state legislature, not without good reason, and they distrust any commission, so predictably when voters are asked this question, they will almost certainly vote no.”

Tokaji said these bills actually make the redistricting process worse by giving more authority to the majority party.

"It is the dominant party that holds the whip in its hand and can beat the opposing party, the minority party, into submission with it," he said. "As a practical matter, the minority party has no real leverage under this proposal.”

Ohio State University Professor Dr. Richard Gunther, also remains unimpressed.

“This is not reform," Gunther said. "This is really a Trojan horse for entrenching in power the current legislative majority and having that spill over into a huge super majority in our congressional delegation.”

Backers of the new redistricting plans hope to pass them in the few weeks during the lame duck session of the legislature. Opponents are hoping to raise enough questions about them to put pressure on lawmakers to stop the adoption of the plan.

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