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Lawmakers Working On New Redistricting Plan

Dec 2, 2014

A redistricting proposal is unlikely to be taken up in the lame duck session of the Ohio General Assembly this year, but one could be ready in time for the November 2015 elections.

Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.

Earlier this year, it appeared as if the Constitutional Modernization Commission was close to coming to agreement on a plan that had gained traction, and that some thought lawmakers could pass by the end of this year. But that didn’t happen.  Then, in recent days, a new bill that was dramatically different passed in a House committee.  But immediately, lawmakers started changing it.  So now Republican Senator Frank LaRose, who has a redistricting proposal of his own that has passed the Senate, is speaking up. He says lawmakers from both the House and Senate, and from both the Republican and Democratic parties, are working together to come up with a new plan that has bipartisan support.
 
LaRose –“As we sit down as colleagues, in earnest, to work this out, I believe we can find that middle ground and truly advance a bipartisan redistricting proposal that is balanced and creates a much better scenario for drawing lines than what we have now.  If that can be done by the end of this year, then I’m going to continue working to do so.  If it takes until next spring, then that’s fine as well.”
 
The long, ongoing process to come up with a new redistricting plan frustrates those who are clamoring for change.  Catherine Turcer with Common Cause Ohio joined the League of Women Voters in releasing an analysis of the redistricting plan that was used to draw the current maps for lawmakers’ districts. And she says the analysis shows that plan is so flawed that voters really didn’t have much say in who was elected this November.
 
Turcer – “What this analysis shows is that the gerrymandered lines almost perfectly predict who the winner is going to be in November, based on party, party alone.  And so you can look at the district line and you can see it has a partisan index, or an expected index of X for Republicans and X for D’s. And we will know who was the likely winner.  And so the partisan indexes and partisan leanings actually predicted the results of 96 out of the 99 house races.  And it was the perfect predictor for the Ohio House races and the U.S. House races.”
 
Turcer says four of the Ohio Senate winners and 14 of the Ohio House winners didn’t face opponents in this election.  She says redistricting must change soon because voters are losing faith in the system. Peg Rosenfield with the League of Women Voters notes Ohio voters would have to approve any changes in the redistricting process, but she thinks it’s doable.
 
Rosenfield “If it were something put on the ballot by a bipartisan vote of the legislature, the chances are very good that it would pass because there wouldn’t really be the organized opposition.  Either party can defeat something but if they both agree to it, even rather grudgingly, we might get some reform.”
 
LaRose says he thinks the bipartisan agreement is possible.  He explains the sticking point right now is over an impasse resolution – an agreement over how a dispute over a future redistricting map would be solved with buy-in from both political parties.
 
LaRose – “At this point, it seems like the House wants to impose an impasse resolution so we want to work to find a bipartisan one.  And it’s difficult to find that bipartisan impasse resolution that, in some way, doesn’t incentivize one side or the other to game it out to go to impasse.  We want to have an impasse resolution that doesn’t benefit one side or the other.  If it does, it’s not truly an impasse resolution and that’s what we are working to find.”
 
And the issue continues to bring together groups that don’t normally agree on much of anything. The right-leaning research group Opportunity Ohio and the left-leaning coalition ProgressOhio have put out a joint statement about the analysis done by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, saying it shows redistricting reform must be a legislative priority.