COLUMBUS, Ohio — APRIL 20: The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal)

BY:  Ohio Capital Journal

The Ohio Redistricting Commission will meet on Wednesday for the first time since May 2022 to discuss Ohio Statehouse voting districts.

After well over a year of inaction, and five different Ohio Supreme Court rejections, the commission comes back to work with heavy criticism of previous maps, and a mixed amount of optimism among anti-gerrymandering advocates that things will change.

“Even though activists from across the state wrote letters, attended, called (senators and representatives) … we know that those calls to do something different largely fell on deaf ears,” said Petee Talley, head of the Ohio Coalition on Black Civic Participation, of previous efforts to comment on district maps.

Court cases out of states like Alabama and Florida showed courts on all levels, including the U.S. Supreme Court, did not agree that racial demographics should be shoved to the side when debating voting districts.

Groups like Talley’s OCBCP, the NAACP of Ohio and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative said in a recent press call they were happy to see the rulings after Ohio mapmakers admitted they were instructed by legislative leaders not to include demographic data in Statehouse maps.

“We are hopeful that we have a vote in the next drawing in what these districts look like so that we can get the representation that we need,” Talley said on the call.

But in expressing doubts about the process considering the elected officials on the redistricting commission, Tom Roberts, a former state senator and the current president of the NAACP’s Ohio chapter, cited Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s recent letter expressing the need for maps to be passed by the end of September in order to be used in the November 2024 general election.

“This just tells me that they have no interest in drawing fair maps, they have no interest in doing the right thing,” Roberts said.

The former elected official said he’s “not optimistic” that the ORC will do “any more than they did the last time.”

The only way to get to fair maps, Roberts said, is to remove elected leaders from the commission and make it a citizen-run body. That concept has been brought up in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment for the ballot in 2024 attempting to revise the redistricting process yet again by replacing the politicians on the Ohio Resdistricting Commission with an Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission.

The amendment had a set back as language for the proposal was rejected by the Ohio Attorney General’s office, but amendment advocates have since resubmitted language for reconsideration.

The idea of changing the way legislative and congressional maps are drawn was put to legislators in a recent Gongwer-Werth poll, where 100% of Democratic legislators polled said changes should be made, and 71% of Republican participants disagreed. Only 18% of the GOP legislators surveyed said there should be changes, with 12% undecided.

Of 51 legislators polled, 61% said lawmakers should continue to serve on the redistricting body. The partisan split was significant, however, with 88% of Democrats in the survey saying no lawmakers should acts as map adopters as 12% undecided, and 91% of Republicans landing on the side of lawmaker-led redistricting, with 6% against it and 3% undecided.

Unanimously, Democratic participants said the governor should not be a member of the commission, but 76% of GOP survey-takers saying the leader of the executive branch should be a part of the map drawing process.

Republicans were split when asked if a more competitive district map could be drawn in Ohio, with 45% of those participating saying there could be a more competitive map, and 42% of the GOP members surveyed saying it couldn’t be done.

Unsurprisingly, all Democratic participants said more competitive districts were possible.

Ohio’s U.S. Congressional district map won’t see a change until after the 2024 election, as court cases challenging the map declared unconstitutional by a bipartisan majority on the previous Ohio Supreme Court were dismissed by the current Ohio Supreme Court at the request of map challengers.

With a map draw set to happen after 2024 either way, challengers said they decided that continuing the case would only add confusion and another state of “limbo” for voters as a general election with hot-button issues approaches.

Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.


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