COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Who should control the drawing of congressional district maps is at stake as Republican leadership at the statehouse come together to create a panel of four lawmakers who could develop a new method by the end of the year.
For months, an effort supported by the League of Women Voters has been underway to gather signatures so a ballot issue could be placed before the people of Ohio. The measure would be similar to one introduced a few years ago.
In 2015, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot issue that restructured how the General Assembly districts will be drawn starting in 2021.
To get to that point, four lawmakers sat down and hashed out a plan over a three-hour meeting; though to hear State Senator Matt Huffman tell the story, it was mostly himself and Vernon Sykes working out the details with some help from the other two men in the room, Keith Faber and Joe Schiavoni; this after hearing testimony from the public, of course.
Huffman and Sykes will be returning this fall to the negotiation table, and this time Kirk Schuring will be joining them. There has been no word yet who the second democrat will be, but whoever it is will be a member of the Ohio House of Representatives.
Senate President Larry Obhof and House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger made the announcement late last Friday.
Huffman says the plan is to figure out a ballot initiative fairly promptly so it can be on a ballot for the voters in 2018.
So you may be asking yourself, why the dual paths to the ballot?
The answer is simple: control.
As it is written, the petition version the League of Women Voters supports calls for a group of seven people to develop and adopt the congressional district map. Those seven people would be the governor, the secretary of state, the auditor of state, and four lawmakers from the legislature, including a member of the majority and minority party from both chambers.
The legislative panel path allows for the lawmakers to come up with something completely different if they wish.
Further, Huffman says simply taking what was passed last time and using it for the congressional district map simply won’t work.
According to Huffman, the ballot issue that was passed by voters allows the general assembly districts to vary by no more than 5% in population from other districts.
A stricter rule is in place for the congressional districts, according to Huffman. He says the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the population of congressional districts can vary by no more than a single person.
Beyond these technical issues, Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko expressed concern when the panel was announced last week.
In a statement he writes:
“…Republican Leadership informed us that they will put a congressional redistricting reform plan on the May 2018 ballot even without bipartisan support. Such strong-arm tactics do not bode well for a constructive dialogue.”
Huffman does not know when the panel will begin meeting or offering public testimony.
He is hopeful they will settle on a plan by the end of the year.