WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, Sept. 26, the Ohio Redistricting Commission (ORC) voted unanimously to adopt new state legislative maps for the 2020 redistricting cycle, more than two years since the process began.
The adopted maps, which are heavily gerrymandered in favor of Republicans, were chosen late last night as the ORC’s working maps after closed door discussions. Shortly after, they were adopted unanimously. The approved Senate map features a 23-10 seat split in favor of Republicans, while the House map contains a 61-38 Republican advantage. Ohio Republicans currently hold a 26-7 majority in the Senate and a 67-32 majority in the House.
The ORC had previously passed a Republican-sponsored working map over objections from Democrats on the commission, who released their own maps that would have curbed legislative gerrymanders in the state. In contrast to the Republican commissioners’ maps, the Democratic proposals featured a 19-14 Republican advantage in the Senate and a 56-43 Republican advantage in the House. That’s significantly more aligned with what activists in the state say would be a fair partisan breakdown.
The Republican-sponsored map seemed sure to be adopted in a party-line vote yesterday — since the working draft passed in a party-line 5-2 vote last week — until last-minute negotiations resulted in the surprise bipartisan agreement. Republicans on the ORC lauded the approved maps, with Auditor of State Keith Faber (R) saying the maps were “the result of an awful lot of hours of discussion, consideration, negotiation, mediation and more discussion.” Since the maps were adopted in a bipartisan vote, it’s possible the maps could be in place for eight years.
The move by Democrats on the ORC to support the gerrymandered maps surprised some Ohio groups working to achieve fair maps. Equal Districts and Fair Districts, two coalition groups in the state, said the “illegally gerrymandered” maps “shockingly garnered the support of the two lone Democratic commission members.”
House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D) explained that her decision to vote in favor of the maps was “not a vote because I think that these maps are fair, or that this process worked the way that it was supposed to,” but rather “simply to take this process out of the hands of this commission.” Senate Minority Leader Nickie J. Antonio (D) stated that the maps were an improvement from the previous working maps, but that this cycle of redistricting made clear the need for a citizen-led redistricting process.
A pro-voting group, Citizens Not Politicians, is attempting to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2024 that would implement a citizen-led redistricting commission. As opposed to the ORC’s overwhelming Republican majority, the citizen-led commission would consist of an equal number of Democrats, Republicans and independents. No elected official would be on the commission. If the amendment passes in 2024, all of Ohio’s maps, including the state’s congressional districts, would immediately have to be redrawn.
Yesterday’s vote follows three public ORC meetings where pro-voting advocates and Ohioans voiced their concerns over the ORC’s process. One Ohio resident testified that they were a “registered Republican and frankly disgusted by the redistricting committee’s goal to gerrymander districts.” Another said the process made them feel that the “redistricting commission has more influence over who will represent us than actual people who are casting votes in elections.”
Three lawsuits challenging the state’s current legislative maps are ongoing. The Ohio Supreme Court has already struck down legislative maps passed by the ORC five separate times for being partisan gerrymanders, but Republicans in the state used delay tactics to force Ohioans to vote under gerrymandered maps in 2022. The court also struck down the state’s congressional maps twice. Yesterday, before the vote took place, both parties in the three lawsuits — including the pro-voting groups and Republicans on the ORC — asked the Ohio Supreme Court to review the new maps.