COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Supreme Court has criticized state Republicans lack of transparency as they’ve passed three sets of state legislative maps the court eventually rejected as illegally biased in favor of the GOP.
So now, the latest round of redistricting will be televised.
This morning, Ohio Government Television launched its redistricting live stream which will feature two mapmaking consultants the Ohio Redistricting Commission hired to draw new maps before a court-ordered Monday deadline. The stream can be seen at OhioChannel.org, and will be embedded in the bottom of this post.
Michael McDonald, a University of Florida professor chosen by Democrats, and Douglas Johnson, a California consultant chosen by Republicans, began work at 8 a.m. and will continue to work marathon sessions in a conference room in the Ohio Statehouse to try to develop the maps. The two mapmakers, hired after the Ohio Supreme Court strongly suggested the redistricting commission get outside help, arrived in Ohio on Wednesday.
Besides the legal deadline, there’s also the time crunch of getting the maps ready in time for the upcoming May 3 election. Time is even shorter than it would seem because state law says early voting in Ohio must begin on April 5.
The online mapmaking comes in response to stinging criticism from a majority of the Ohio Supreme Court, which said Republicans illegally stacked the deck in previous rounds of map-drawing by having their aides draw the maps behind closed doors, and then introduce them shortly before voting to approve them, giving Democrats no time for significant feedback or changes.
The court, with Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor joining three Democratic justices, cited the mapmaking process as evidence the maps were drawn to primarily benefit Republicans in their Feb. 17 order striking the maps down.
Redistricting is the highly technical process of redrawing political maps to reflect recent population changes. Slight changes in the lines — in Ohio, almost entirely in urban and suburban areas — can make major differences for each party’s chances of winning more or fewer state legislative seats.
Ohio’s new redistricting rules, approved by voters in 2015, say state legislative maps shouldn’t be drawn to benefit a political party and should be designed to favor each party to win a share of seats that’s proportional to their share of the statewide vote.
In the recent relevant elections, Republicans received 54% of the vote, and Democrats 46%. Each set of Republican-drawn maps have gotten closer to that proportionality number. The most recent number hit the number exactly, but the court faulted Republicans for drawing a large number of Democratic-leaning districts to be hotly competitive, with no corresponding competitive Republican districts.
The rules also limit how cities, counties and townships can be split, among other non-political criteria.
The Ohio Redistricting Commission, a Republican-dominated panel of elected officials, authorized the live stream when they approved a list of marching orders for the mapmaking consultants during a Wednesday night meeting.
The rules also lay out a mediation process if the mapmakers end up disagreeing with each other on how the lines should be drawn. The redistricting commission hired mediators from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to help privately resolve disputes.
If that doesn’t work, the full redistricting commission will vote to tell the mapmakers what to do.
As the online mapmaking process plays out, Republicans also are trying to get a federal court to override the Ohio Supreme Court’s March 17 order rejecting the maps. Court hearings in the case, filed by Republican activists, are scheduled for Friday and Wednesday.
Live-streamed mapmaking isn’t unprecedented. North Carolina recently drew state legislative and congressional maps in view of a live Internet feed, at the order of the closely-divided Virginia Supreme Court.
Here is the live stream: