COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Tuesday afternoon, the Ohio House of Representatives passed a historic reform of how congressional districts could be drawn in the future.
The measure must now be approved by the people of Ohio through a ballot initiative. They will have the opportunity to approve or reject the measure in the May Primary Election.
If voters approve the plan it will be enshrined in the Ohio Constitution as the way lines are drawn henceforth.
This all came about after citizen groups pressured lawmakers into coming up with a plan or risk getting stuck with the citizens’ plan, which was well on its way toward a November General Election ballot appearance.
That appearance may still happen if voters reject the lawmakers’ plan.
Nearly 200,000 people were fed up with the way lawmakers had been drawing the congressional maps in Ohio and signed petitions to get the Fair Elections=Fair Districts plan on the November ballot.
This week, a bipartisan agreement was reached so that the lawmakers’ plan will go on the May ballot.
The plan was negotiated for weeks with both political parties and representatives from the citizen groups responsible for the ballot initiative participating.
The Ohio Senate approved the plan unanimously, but the same cannot be said for the House of Representatives.
Ten members of the quorum present voted against the plan, four of them were Republicans. Several other members were not in the House Chamber for the historic vote.
Basically, this is how the plan would work if it is adopted by the voters:
The plan is broken down into four phases lawmakers like to call silos.
In Phase One the general assembly draws a 10-year map that requires approval of 3/5ths of legislators including half the minority party.
If that fails, the process moves on to Phase Two where a redistricting commission draws a 10-year map that requires the approval of a simple majority of the commission including 2 minority members.
The commission is made up of the Governor, the Secretary of State, the Auditor of State, and two members from the Majority and Minority parties.
If that map fails to pass; the process moves to Phase Three where the general assembly tries again to draw a 10-year map that requires 3/5ths approval, but this time only 1/3 of the minority party needs to support it.
If that fails, the process moves to the fourth and final phase where the Majority party draws a 4-year map under stricter line drawing rules dictating how cities, villages, and townships can be divided. This phase also carries a requirement to explain why they drew the lines where they did.
During Phases 1 through 3 the map drawing rules state most counties must remain whole; 65 counties cannot be split, 18 counties can have one line drawn through them, and 5 counties can have two lines drawn though them. It will be up to the map drawer to determine which counties will be split and there is explicit requirement that the number of splits fall to the largest counties.
It is likely we will see the largest 3 or 4 counties falling into the 2-split category, but some lawmakers are concerned that the 5th largest county, Montgomery, will not and the majority party may seek to put Lucas or Lorain counties in that group of 5 counties that will get split twice as a way to carve up Democrat voting blocs giving an advantage to Republican candidates.
Other line-drawing rules in Phases 1 through 3 insist that districts must be compact, and there will be public hearings and opportunities for maps drawn by members of the public to be submitted.
Phases 1, 3 and 4 are all subject to the Governor’s veto power or citizen referendum.
Some lawmakers are still hesitant about the plan. Most house members had the final version of the plan for less than 24 hours before they were asked to vote on the measure.
Even though he voted for the plan State Representative Jack Cera points out there are sections of the plan that he simply does not understand and says is unclear.
According to Cera the section in question is full of terms that can be argued over ad nauseam.
When the Senate passed the plan, several state senators admitted the plan is not perfect.
Minority Party Leader Senator Kenny Yuko went so far as to say, “It might not even work.”
Those concerns seem to align with State Representative John Boccieri’s concern over enshrining the plan in the state constitution.
“I have a problem with burning a political process into the State constitution. I have a problem with designating a batch of communities that can be carved up by partisan map drafters, I have a problem that legislators didn’t go far enough to define what it means that maps cannot be drawn to unduly favor or disfavor a political party. Lastly, I have a problem with the rush to put this bill out ahead of the citizen-led initiative when we could have taken more time to develop a better process; one not burned into the constitution,” said Boccieri.