Ohio redistricting panel OKs 4-year plan along party lines

Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, foreground, speaks to state Sen. Vernon Sykes, seated, the co-chair of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, as other members of the panel prepared for a meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio.
Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, foreground, speaks to state Sen. Vernon Sykes, seated, the co-chair of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, as other members of the panel prepared for a meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio.Julie Carr Smyth/AP

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The powerful new redistricting panel in Ohio failed on Wednesday to reach the bipartisan consensus necessary to pass a 10-year map of state legislative districts based on 2020 census totals.

After hours of negotiations ahead of a midnight deadline, the Ohio Redistricting Commission approved new district boundaries purely along party lines. That means the map will last for only four years.

The two Democrats on the panel — state Sen. Vernon Sykes and House Democratic Leader Emilia Sykes, his daughter — maligned the GOP-drawn map as an unfair and arrogant thwarting of Ohio voters’ wishes.

“I call it offensive and plain wrong to move forward this map after we heard hundreds of people come before us, hours of testimony in cities across this great state, and to put forth something that so arrogantly flies in the face of what people, our voters, asked to do," Rep. Sykes said.

Ohio is using a new redistricting process for the first time this year that was approved by voters through state ballot issues in 2015 and 2018.

The new system, which is meant to fight partisan gerrymandering, required the independent commission — which includes two Republicans and two Democrats from the Legislature, as well as three statewide officals — to finish redrawing legislative districts by Wednesday. It sets an initial Sept. 30 deadline for the General Assembly to complete a new map of the state’s congressional districts.

An Associated Press analysis found that Ohio’s maps are among the nation’s most gerrymandered, during a period when Republicans won more seats than would have been expected based on the percentage of votes they received.

Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose voted for the final map, but he expressed deep disappointment that bipartisan compromise yielding a 10-year map couldn’t be achieved.

“We’ve fallen short,” he said. “Not enough members of this commission wanted to come along with that effort.” He accused unnamed fellow Republicans on the panel of not working in good faith to reach a compromise that could satisfy both parties.

GOP Auditor Keith Faber said he, LaRose and Republican Gov. Mike DeWine spent hours trying to find a map that would draw a unanimous vote. He voted “yes with some apprehension.”

DeWine, likewise, said he was “very, very sorry” at where things landed, yet supported the final boundaries. He suggested both sides — not just majority Republicans — were to blame.

“It’s clear in talking to both sides that there’s not going to be an agreement, and that we could go tomorrow and the next day and the next day and it simply is not going to occur,” he said

Legal challenges are anticipated.

“Fair Districts Ohio is still reviewing the Ohio House and Senate maps and considering next steps, including possible litigation and ballot initiatives in the future," the coalition said in a statement.

Republican Senate President Matt Huffman said the final map will have 62 of 99 Ohio House seats that favor Republicans and 23 of 33 Ohio Senate seats that favor the GOP — down from some earlier maps.

“It takes us much closer to the Democratic plan that was presented,” he said.

The vote followed eight crowded public hearings around the state, where members were pilloried by critics who said the state’s existing legislative and congressional districts aren’t representative. A few witnesses defended the current Republican advantage as fair, given GOP is the state’s dominant party, but they were in a distinct minority.

Ohio’s partisan breakdown is roughly 54% Republicans, 46% Democrats.

The separate process for redrawing congressional districts is running concurrently to the legislative map-making process. Ohio lost one congressional seat due to lagging population growth recorded in the 2020 Census, which will give the state 15 rather than 16 seats for the next 10 years.

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This story has been updated to correct that the panel has not yet approved Ohio's redistricting map. The Associated Press erroneously published the wrong version of the story.