By Bill Woods
Ohio's Redistricting saga continues. Since the recent StreetVibes review of this process, the following actions have occurred. The Ohio Supreme Court rejected the Congressional district maps that were drawn and approved by the Republican majority in the Ohio General Assembly. The Court found that these maps failed to meet the guidelines of the Ohio Constitutional Amendment passed by the voters in 2018, and ruled that they must be redrawn.
Next, revised State Senate and House maps were resubmitted to that same Court by the Ohio Redistricting Commission to replace the new districts that were rejected earlier by that body for violating the reform Constitutional Amendment passed in 2015. Although slightly less gerrymandered than the earlier submissions, this map redo has again been called unacceptable by the reform groups that initially challenged them before Ohio's highest Court. These maps will now be reviewed by the Court.
At the Community Issues Forum on February 27th, Catherine Turcer, Executive Director of Common Cause Ohio, provided an update on both the state map redo and the the status of the Congressional map redrawing process currently underway. Not only did Turcer provide an insider's view of this ongoing saga, but she outlined what concerned citizen could do during this process.
The Ohio Supreme Court's decision on the Congressional maps was rendered on January 13th. By a four to three decision, the. Court found the maps approved by the Republican majority in the Ohio General Assembly basically ignored the redistricting process mandated by the 2018 Constitutional Amendment. Instead of creating Congressional Districts that did not favor one political party, the Republican majority approved maps that were as gerrymandered as the ones drawn in 2011. Furthermore, the map makers ignored the Amendment's wording that calls for compact districts that keep communities and counties intact as much as possible.
Hamilton County is the poster child of how masters of gerrymandering work their partisan magic. Cincinnati has been home to a Democratic majority for a number of years, and Hamilton County has become more Democratic as well. In 2011, the Republican-controlled process divided Cincinnati into two districts with enough outer suburban and rural areas included in them to keep them safely in GOP-control.
In this round, the map makers went even further. Totally ignoring the language of "compactness" called for by the Amendment, the map drawers split Cincinnati and Hamilton County into three districts attached to outer rural and suburban areas. This new rendering would have created three Republican Congressional seats.
Needless to say, reformers who challenged these new maps used Cincinnati and Hamilton County's situation as good evidence when they argued their case before the Ohio Supreme Court. The Court's January 13th decision included a ruling that the General Assembly must go back to the drawing board and produce Congressional District maps that follow the strictures of the 2018 Constitutional Amendment. Legislators have a thirty-day time frame to produce these geographic political units.
At the Community Issues Forum, Catherine Turcer called on all concerned citizens to write or call their State Senators and House members to tell them to be faithful to the 2018 Amendment in order to produce Congressional maps that are not politically gerrymandered. Meanwhile, reform groups such as the League of Women Voters and Turcer's organization (Common Cause) await the Ohio Supreme Court's reaction to the second round of Ohio Senate and House maps that were submitted for that Court's review. If the Court again rejects these maps as unconstitutional, then reformers can gear up yet again. Stay tuned!