COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A definitive map of Ohio’s new congressional districts appeared fast-tracked to be pushed through the Republican-led Legislature before Thanksgiving, over the objections of voting-rights advocates and Democrats on Tuesday.
At issue is the once-per-decade requirement that states redraw congressional districts to reflect updated census figures. The process has been beset by coronavirus-related delays, and Republicans and Democrats have proposed competing maps.
GOP House Speaker Bob Cupp revealed details of his party’s updated version of the map late Monday, and it cleared an Ohio Senate committee along partisan lines a little over 16 hours later. An afternoon floor vote was expected.
The latest outline of U.S. House districts could move to the Ohio House as soon as Wednesday, where committee and floor votes are possible.
State Sen. Rob McColley, the bill’s Republican sponsor, told the Senate Local Government & Elections Committee on Tuesday that it makes seven of 15 districts competitive, as well as keeping seven of the state’s eight largest cities whole. Opponents of the map were left guessing at its partisan impacts because of the quick turnaround.
The map divides populous Cuyahoga and Hamilton counties, the respective homes to Cleveland and Cincinnati and their concentrations of Democratic voters, three ways each. Franklin County, home to Columbus, is divided two ways. It also draws the western Cleveland suburbs in Lorain County into a district that stretches to the Indiana border, a nearly 3-hour drive.
State Sen. Vernon Sykes, an Akron Democrat, said only three of the map’s districts will favor Democrats.
Tiffany Rumbalski, a concerned citizen from the Columbus suburb of Hillard, called the latest map “a gut punch” to those who voted for fairness, representation, competitiveness and transparency in a 2018 constitutional amendment.
“What we’re shown is disdain, disrespect and disregard, and the voters feel it,” she said, to rumbles of affirmation from the audience at a hearing on the map held at the Ohio Statehouse.
Without bipartisan support, the map has to meet certain more rigorous criteria and would last only four years, under constitutional changes overwhelmingly supported by Ohio voters.
“This map is rational, constitutional and it achieves the objectives Ohio voters overwhelmingly endorsed,” Cupp said in a memo accompanying the latest iteration of the highly contentious map. He said the district outlines don’t “unduly favor or disfavor any political party or its incumbents.”
The Equal Districts Coalition, an assemblage of more than 30 Ohio advocacy groups and labor unions engaged in the redistricting process, pushed back against any map that didn’t break down to eight Republican-leaning seats and seven Democratic-leaning seats. Cupp’s map appeared more heavily weighted to Republicans.
The groups say an 8-7 split is fair, given the partisan leanings of Ohioans being roughly 54% Republican, 46% Democratic in votes taken since the last census.
Due to lagging population, Ohio will lose one seat in Congress starting next year — taking it from 16 to 15.