Ohio redistricting commission gives up on US House map
A new bipartisan commission tasked with redrawing Ohio’s political boundaries every decade surrendered its authority to draw congressional districts without even considering a proposal, punting the decision to a state legislature overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans.
The commission, created three years ago with the support of more than 70 percent of Ohio voters, held just one meeting to consider congressional district boundaries. At that meeting, commissioners heard testimony from Ohio voters, one of whom used candy corn to aid his visual presentation.
Commissioners did not bring up or vote on any of their own proposals.
The commission had until Sunday to approve congressional district maps. Its failure to do so means the legislature will now have about a month to craft, consider and approve new U.S. House district lines.
The constitutional amendment voters approved created a unique type of commission, one that includes the governor, the secretary of state, the state auditor, two legislative Republicans and two legislative Democrats. The three statewide elected officials — Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Auditor Keith Faber — are all Republicans; commissioners needed just four votes to approve district boundaries.
“In 2018 Ohioans sent a clear message on redistricting — we wanted a fair and transparent process. Today, once again, the Republican-led commission sent quite another message — they don’t care,” said Katy Shanahan, the Ohio state director for All On The Line, an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. “Not about transparency in map drawing, not about ensuring public engagement opportunities, not about the constitutional requirements, and not about our democracy.”
Dan Tierney, a spokesman for DeWine, said the commissioners simply ran out of time to draw new district lines after the U.S. Census Bureau delayed delivery of data used in the redistricting process. That delay, caused by lawsuits and the coronavirus pandemic, has left lawmakers in other states scrambling to complete their own redistricting in time to meet other deadlines.
“It essentially took five months out of the process,” Tierney said of the delay. “That is a significant reduction in time.”
Ohio is set to lose one of its congressional districts next year, after the state’s population grew at a slower rate than the rest of the country. The loss marks the sixth consecutive decade in which Ohio’s congressional delegation has dropped, after reaching its apex of 24 seats in the 1960s.
It is not clear how legislative Republicans will act. The state’s congressional delegation is made up of 12 Republicans and just four Democrats; one of those four districts, currently held by Rep. Tim Ryan (D) and based east of Akron into Youngstown, favored President Biden by a slim 4-point margin in 2020.
Ryan is running for a U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R), making his open district a potential candidate for elimination. The four neighboring districts, held by Reps. Bill Johnson (R), Bob Gibbs (R), Dave Joyce (R) and Anthony Gonzalez (R), who is also retiring, all backed former President Donald Trump by wide margins in 2020.
State Senate President Matt Huffman (R), also a member of the commission, told reporters the Senate would begin hearings on two proposed revisions to U.S. House maps, one backed by Republicans and one supported by Democrats.
The Democratic map would create six Democratic districts, eight Republican-leaning seats and a competitive district near what is now Ryan’s district. The Republican plan has not yet been made public.
The constitutional amendment that created the commission did envision the prospect of a deadlocked panel, kicking the authority to draw districts to the legislature. The amendment allows the majority party to force through their maps, though if the winning proposal does not attract support from at least a third of the members of the minority party, it would be in place for only four years, instead of 10.