Ohio to vote on redistricting reform

Ohio to vote on redistricting reform
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Ohio voters will decide whether to overhaul the way state legislators draw congressional district lines in a May referendum after Democrats and Republicans reached a last-minute deal this week.

The measure will ask voters whether they want to amend the state constitution to require bipartisan support when drawing new congressional district lines. Any new maps would require three-fifths support in the state House and Senate, including support from at least half the members of the minority party.

If Republicans and Democrats in the legislature cannot agree on a map, a seven-member bipartisan commission would be assigned to draw new maps. Those maps would have to be approved with at least two votes from the minority party.

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If the bipartisan commission fails, the legislature would be allowed to try to draw 10-year maps that earn support from one-third of the minority party or a four-year map with only majority support. 

The ballot measure came after weeks of negotiations between legislatures and an outside coalition, led by Ohio’s League of Women Voters. The coalition, Fair Districts = Fair Elections, gathered more than 200,000 signatures on a petition for its redistricting reform initiative and qualified for November’s ballot.

Just a week ago, the negotiations appeared stalled. But state Senate President Larry Obhof (R) and state Sen. Vernon Sykes (D) hammered out a final deal to reach a compromise.

“This compromise was hard-fought, down to the last minute, requiring concessions on both sides, and we are not entering into it lightly,” said Beth Taggart, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio.

The constitutional amendment would also require at least 65 counties to be drawn wholly into a congressional district. New maps could not divide the cities of Cleveland or Cincinnati between districts.

“This plan ends the process of stretching districts far across the state, while maintaining the importance of the historic Voting Rights Act,” said state Sen. Matt Huffman (R), the sponsor of the compromise plan.

The Senate voted unanimously on Monday to approve the compromise. The House concurred Tuesday in an 82-10 vote. The measure will appear on the May 8 ballot, when Ohio voters pick party nominees in a statewide primary.

Ohio is just one front in the partisan war over how states draw congressional and legislative district lines. Voters in Michigan, Missouri and South Dakota are all likely to face redistricting reform initiatives in November, while the Supreme Court considers redistricting cases involving North Carolina and Wisconsin. 

The Supreme Court said earlier this week it would not block a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling ordering new district boundaries in the Keystone State, where the Republican-led legislature had drawn lines that favor the GOP.

Ohio’s congressional district maps favor Republicans. The GOP holds 12 of the state’s 16 congressional seats, even though the party won only 58 percent of the two-party vote for Congress in the 2016 elections. 

Several districts, like those held by Reps. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanFreedom Caucus lawmakers call on DOJ to probe Rosenstein allegations Lawsuit alleges USA Diving ignored sexual abuse of divers GOP leaders jockey for affection of House conservatives MORE (R), Bob GibbsRobert (Bob) Brian GibbsHouse Dems add five candidates to ‘Red to Blue’ program Ohio to vote on redistricting reform Former Ohio football star faces conservative rival in GOP primary fight MORE (R) and Jim RenacciJames (Jim) B. RenacciElection Countdown: Latest on the 2018 Senate money race | Red-state Dems feeling the heat over Kavanaugh | Dem doubts about Warren | Ocasio-Cortez to visit Capitol Hill | Why Puerto Ricans in Florida could swing Senate race Ohio Senate candidate pledges to serve no more than two terms Rick Scott's Senate bid sets quarterly fundraising record for 2018 election cycle MORE (R), snake from the Cleveland suburbs out into more conservative rural parts of the state, dividing several counties between different districts. Rep. Marcy KapturMarcia (Marcy) Carolyn KapturOvernight Energy: Two top Pruitt aides quit | Trump offers support for Pruitt | EPA spokesman calls reporter 'a piece of trash' | Pruitt praises Chick-Fil-A as 'franchise of faith' Dems put squeeze on Ryan over chaplain controversy House chaplain rescinds resignation MORE (D), whose district stretches from Toledo in the west to Lorain in the east, cannot drive her entire district without crowding into Republican-held territory.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) has long been a proponent of reforming the way districts are drawn. Kasich pushed the Republican-controlled legislature to reform the way they drew their own district boundaries in 2015, though congressional districts were left out of that effort at the behest of Rep. John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFive GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Ex-lawmakers see tough job market with trade groups Veterans are left out of medical marijuana protections MORE, then the Speaker of the House and a Kasich ally.

Kasich called for redistricting reform in his 2016 State of the State speech. He did not include redistricting reform in his budget last year, after GOP legislators said they would take up the issue once again.