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Work continues on next set of Ohio statehouse district maps | News, Sports, Jobs

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COLUMBUS — Ohio’s political mapmaking body disagreed along partisan lines Monday on the best way to finish work on a new set of constitutionally sound boundaries for state legislative districts.

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Through the day, the seven-member, GOP-controlled Ohio Redistricting Commission awaited final results from two independent mapmakers who worked through the weekend on new maps in a first-ever process allowing their work to be viewed step-by-step online.

Late in the afternoon, the commission reversed course and voted 5-2 to revive maps previously declared unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court and make some adjustments to them in the hopes of fixing problems identified by the court.

The move was necessary to make the Supreme Court’s midnight deadline Monday, said Republican Senate President Matt Huffman, a commission member. The remaining independent mapmaker should continue his work, but the panel needs a “safety valve” to ensure it can make the deadline and not be held in contempt, Huffman said.

“If we’re not going to land the plane, it would be nice to have a parachute,” he said.

Democrats sharply criticized the move. Rep. Allison Russo, the top House Democrat, called it “a slap in the face to Ohio voters” that disregarded the Supreme Court’s order to draw constitutional maps. She questioned whether the court would find the commission in contempt if it delivered maps a few hours late.

“Ridiculous,” said Sen. Vernon Sykes, an Akron Democrat.

“There seems to be no end to the arrogance of the super-majority,” Sykes said, referring to Republicans’ majority in the House and Senate.

The Republican commission members voting in favor of making adjustments to the previously rejected maps were Huffman, State Auditor Keith Faber, House Speaker Bob Cupp, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, and Gov. Mike DeWine.

Russo and Sykes both voted against the proposal.

The state Supreme Court rejected the previous three sets of Ohio House and Senate maps drawn by the panel, ruling in a 4-3 vote each time that the plans were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to unduly favor Republicans.

This time around, the commission was being helped by mediators from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and the independent mapmakers. Also for the first time, the process happened live, with mapmakers’ work — including every computer adjustment no matter how tiny — being streamed online.

Ohioans overwhelmingly supported a 2015 constitutional amendment that mandated the redistricting commission at least attempt to avoid partisan favoritism and to proportionally distribute districts to reflect Ohio’s 54% Republican, 46% Democratic split.

The latest version of House maps are constitutionally proportional, and include three competitive districts that lean Republican and three that lean Democrat, mapmaker Mike McDonald of the University of Florida said earlier Monday.

The Senate map is also proportional, with two competitive districts for Democrats and none for Republicans.

“We’ve looked at this hard and I don’t think we’re going to be able to improve on that and keep proportionality,” said McDonald, who had to leave Monday afternoon to catch a flight home.

Huffman said he was concerned the commission still hadn’t seen the Senate map by late Monday afternoon.

Earlier Monday, Huffman raised concerns that eight of 16 senators halfway through their terms would live outside their current districts under the current map.

Faber was critical of the current map for dividing urban areas into multiple Democrat-leaning districts to achieve proportional districts.

Russo noted there’s no constitutional requirement that entire districts must be contained inside a city.

Meanwhile, a panel of federal judges raised a new option Friday to keep the state’s May 3 primary alive: shrinking Ohio’s robust early voting period.

The panel ordered LaRose to pinpoint by Monday whether making such an adjustment would violate any state or federal laws.



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