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New Congressional District Map Clears Ohio Senate On Party Lines, Heads To House

A fast-tracked map of Ohio’s new congressional districts cleared the Ohio Senate on Tuesday and headed to the House, even as voting-rights groups and Democrats continued to object to both the boundaries and the process. 

The Senate’s approval along party lines came less than 24 hours after GOP House Speaker Bob Cupp released an updated version developed behind closed doors.

“This map is rational, constitutional and it achieves the objectives Ohio voters overwhelmingly endorsed,” Cupp said in a memo accompanying the release. He said the district outlines don’t “unduly favor or disfavor any political party or its incumbents,” as required by the Ohio Constitution.

The action comes as Ohio and other states are under the gun to redraw their congressional districts to reflect updated census figures. Ohio lost one of its 16 seats in a process, beset this year by COVID-related delays, due to lagging population.

Without ample Democratic support, the Republican-backed map will only last four years, rather than the usual 10. That’s based on a new redistricting process approved by Ohio voters in 2018.

But that process called for a minimum of two hearings on any final map, a requirement that Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said may now be sent to the courts. “All options are on the table,” she said.

Republican Sen. Theresa Gavarone, the Republican whose Senate Local Government & Elections Committee sent the map to the floor, said the bill had five hearings and saw many hours of testimony in its various forms.

State Sen. Rob McColley, the bill’s Republican sponsor, told the panel earlier in the day that the map makes seven of 15 districts competitive, more than any of the other proposed maps that were considered. The Republicans’ plan also keeps seven of the state’s eight largest cities whole, he said.

Opponents decried the map as gerrymandered to disproportionately favor ruling Republicans. It 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. The map 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, testified that the latest map was “a gut punch” to those who voted for fairness, representation, competitiveness and transparency in a 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 midday hearing on the map held at the Ohio Statehouse.

The Equal Districts Coalition, a group of more than 30 Ohio advocacy organizations and labor unions, said for a map to be fair required it break down to eight Republican-leaning seats and seven Democratic-leaning seats.

That’s based on the partisan leanings of Ohioans being roughly 54% Republican, 46% Democratic over the past 10 years. McColley said Republican mapmakers based the final drawing on only federal elections, because those were the ones where Ohio voters were “bifurcated,” sometimes favoring one party, sometimes the other.

Due to sagging population numbers, Ohio will lose one seat in Congress starting next year — taking it from 16 to 15.

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