Ohio redistricting advocates oppose lawmakers’ proposed changes

Backers of a ballot measure to change how Ohio draws congressional districts are moving forward with little hope state lawmakers will draft a better plan.

The congressional redistricting reforms proposed last week by Republican Sen. Matt Huffman would make it impossible to draw districts such as the “snake on the lake”-shaped 9th district. But critics say the proposal, Senate Joint Resolution 5, will also ensure that the majority party — currently Republicans — can draw a map that gives them plenty of safe seats.

When leaders of the Fair Districts = Fair Elections coalition were asked what lawmakers could change about the proposal to win their support, they laughed.

“How much time do you have?” Ann Henkener of the League of Women Voters of Ohio said at a Monday press conference.

“I always hope that both sides of an issue can come together and figure out something,” Henkener said. “I’m truly hoping this happens there. But there’s a pretty big gulf between what we want and what SJR5 is proposing.”

The league and other reform advocates will make the case for changes to the proposal in two Senate committee hearings this week. The Senate could hold a full floor vote on the plan as early as Wednesday.

Lawmakers are moving quickly to pass something by Feb. 7 to make the deadline for the May primary ballot. Huffman said he hopes the plan will garner support from his Democratic colleagues with some changes; so far, Democrats have panned the proposal.

Fair Districts = Fair Elections isn’t waiting for lawmakers to act and is still collecting signatures to put its measure on the November ballot. It has until July 4 to submit at least 305,591 signatures of Ohio registered voters to qualify and claims to have collected more than 200,000 signatures with the help of volunteers.

What’s wrong with Huffman’s proposal?

A lot, according to Henkener, who has been working on redistricting reform for more than a decade.

Some of her concerns:

  • The proposal doesn’t include any language prohibiting drawing districts to benefit a particular party or candidate.
  • If the party has a supermajority, it can draw a map without any input from the minority party and pass it with only one-third of the minority party’s votes.
  • Large counties, where higher concentrations of Democrats live, could be split three or four times to craft more advantageous districts.
  • Voters could not mount a referendum to challenge a map approved by the General Assembly, as they can now.

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