COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — With seven days until a recommended deadline to enact new state legislative maps, the Ohio Redistricting Commission still does not have co-chairs.
Gov. Mike DeWine canceled the redistricting commission meeting scheduled for Friday morning, as promised, because Republicans failed to offer up a co-chair by 5 p.m. The announcement from DeWine’s office did not give a date for a future meeting, saying it would come “at a later date.”
The redistricting commission met for the first time in over a year Wednesday. But a disagreement between House Speaker Jason Stephens (Kitts Hill) and Senate President Matt Huffman (Lima) over who would serve as Republican co-chair delayed the meeting for over an hour — and cut it short. The commission cannot meet to draw maps until co-chairs are selected.
If following the deadline set out by Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the commission has until Sept. 22 to finalize district maps for the Ohio House and Senate. The new maps, court-ordered to be completed in time for use in 2024, will replace maps ruled unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans by the Ohio Supreme Court.
LaRose’s Sept. 22 deadline accounts for time for the General Assembly to draft legal definitions of districts and for county boards of elections to update voter registration systems. Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, said the delays in both meeting to redraw maps and selecting the co-chairs are emblematic of the overall “dysfunction” of the redistricting process.
“They had 400 days to bring this commission together, to get started on these maps,” Turcer said. “They waited until Sept. 13, and now they’re supposed to get them done by Sept. 22? No, that is ridiculous.”
Despite the tight deadline, Republicans still expect the commission to have maps in time for primary elections in May.
“We are continuing to have productive, collaborative conversations among commissioners,” Rep. Jeff LaRe (Violet Township), the Republican House member on the commission, said in a statement. “We’re confident we will soon move forward on the redistricting process and deliver great representation for the people of Ohio.”
The lone Democrats on the board — Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (Lakewood) and House Minority Leader Allison Russo (Upper Arlington) — said Wednesday that they’ve agreed on who will serve as Democratic co-chair. On Thursday evening, Antonio said it was “unfortunate” that the commission could not meet Friday.
“The Ohio Redistricting Commission is no place to play out a proxy war for the next Republican House speaker,” Antonio said, referring to the likely 2024 match-up for the position between Huffman and Stephens. “Leader Russo and I continue to stand ready to serve the voters of Ohio to draw fair districts, and certainly hope we can do so as soon as possible.”
A spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus said in a statement that “channels of communication remain open.”
Turcer said the Republicans’ indecision “doesn’t make any sense,” considering the significance of the commission’s task.
“It is shocking that we’ve gone nowhere,” she said. “It’s that old thing — you think you’ve gone so far and haven’t even left the parking lot.”
Shortly before DeWine’s announcement, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced he rejected a group’s second petition summary for an amendment to create an independent redistricting commission. The independent commission would replace the current commission with a 15-member group of Democrats, Republicans and independent voters.