‘Almost the definition of gerrymandering’: GOP redistricting plan has more Republican-leaning seats – Cincinnati.com

Senate President Matt Huffman listens to an Ohioan voice his concern over Ohio House and Senate district draft maps during a meeting at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio on September 9, 2021. Huffman is one of seven on the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

To reach a 10-year map for state House and Senate districts that avoids a bitter legal battle, the GOP map introduced Thursday needs a lot of work, Democrats and voting advocates say. 

“This map is almost the definition of gerrymandering,” said David Niven, an associate professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati. 

Senate and House Republican staff members offered maps for Ohio’s 99 House districts and 33 Senate districts this week. The seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission has until Wednesday to approve 10-year maps that pass constitutional muster and appease – if not please – the two Democratic members. 

More:Ohio is using a new process to draw state, congressional districts. Here’s how it works

Without Democratic support, the maps would last only four years. Members of the commission say they want a longer-lasting map and will work diligently to get one. 

Here’s a look at some of the early criticism levied against the GOP-made map and some snags negotiators might hit.

Competitive v. representative

Should Ohio’s maps be more competitive or more closely match the results of statewide elections? One can be sacrificed for the other. 

Take the Senate Democrats’ plan for the Senate. That map has just four competitive seats, according to analysis by Dave’s Redistricting App, which uses a partisan index based on years of recent election result data. But their likely end result – 19 Republican seats and 14 Democratic seats – more closely matches the statewide election results in recent years. That split has averaged about 54% of votes for Republican candidates and 46% for Democratic ones. 

More:Ohio Redistricting Commission, set to miss first deadline, can’t agree on who draws maps

In contrast, Republicans proposed eight competitive seats, double the Democrats’ map. But most of them leaned Republican, giving the party a 25-8 advantage. That doesn’t closely match the statewide results of recent elections. 

Voter-approved changes in the Ohio Constitution require the seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission to “attempt to draw” a map that meets several standards, including closely corresponding to the statewide preferences of Ohio voters. 

Republican legislative leaders called that portion of the Ohio Constitution “aspirational,” especially when compared to other mandates, such as not splitting certain cities or counties. Democrats say their colleagues are ignoring parts of the Constitution. 

Winners of a map competition from the voting advocates’ group Fair Districts Ohio – Geoff Wise of Cincinnati and Pranav Padmanabhan of Columbus – drew districts that were more competitive and more closely aligned with statewide voting preferences than lawmakers of either party.

“Drawing a fair map in Ohio is not some kind of magical, mythical creature. This is not the search for a unicorn,” Niven said. “This is simply the search for the will to do it and mapmakers have not demonstrated that will.” 

Pitting lawmakers against each other 

Proposed GOP changes to the House districts would pit several current lawmakers against one another in 2022. 

In Greater Cincinnati, the proposed map draws Rep. Jessica Miranda, D-Forest Park, out of her current 28th House District and into a faceoff with Rep. Cindy Abrams, R-Harrison. The new 29th House District would stretch to western Hamilton County and lean Republican.

“In blatant disregard for the will of the voters who passed redistricting reform, Republicans want to shove a hyper-partisan map down our throats,” Miranda said in a statement. “The 28th District is one of just a handful in Ohio that is truly competitive, and Republicans can’t stand that, so they want to slice and dice it to make sure one of their own takes the seat from the Democrat. They want to rig it.”

Democratic Rep. Sedrick Denson would live in the new 28th District, which would slightly favor Democrats. Denson’s current 33rd House District is a secure Democratic seat. 

Ohio Senate Republicans released draft maps for state House and Senate districts on Sept. 9, 2021 as part of the redistricting process.

The proposed changes could give Republicans a better shot at three House districts in Hamilton County, leaving Democrats with three seats and one tossup. Under the current maps, Republicans can count on two seats. 

In northeast Ohio, the proposed map draws Rep. Casey Weinstein, D-Hudson, into the same 23rd District as Rep. Diane Grendell, R-Chesterland. That new district would lean Republican.

“It’s a map so gerrymandered that I’d be representing THREE counties!” Weinstein tweeted about the proposed district

In another matchup, Rep. Dick Stein, R-Norwalk, and Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, would both reside in the 53rd District, which would stretch from Huron County to parts of Lorain County. That new district would favor Republicans. 

Securing seats 

Some seats would become safer bets under the GOP’s proposal.

In 2020, Sen. Stephanie Kunze, R-Hilliard, eked out a win over her Democratic challenger Crystal Lett by 116 votes. The race was hard-fought and expensive.

Kunze is term-limited in 2024 but her GOP successor would have an advantage in the proposed 16th Senate District, which would include western Franklin County and all of Union County. The current district favors Democrats, 52.2% to 45.6%, while the new district would favor Republicans, 51.7% to 46.0%.

“It’s a prime example of gerrymandering,” Lett said. “They nearly lost in 2020, so they are rigging the map to make sure they win in 2024.”

A proposal from Senate Democrats would keep the 16th Senate District in Franklin County, ensuring it leans Democratic.  

Under both the GOP and Senate Democrats’ plans, Sen. Andrew Brenner’s 19th Senate District would become a safer seat for Republicans without dipping into Franklin County.

The GOP’s newly proposed district would include all of Delaware, Knox, Morrow and part of Holmes County. That would shift the district from 50.8% Republican to 61.8%. Senate Democrats would lump together Delaware County, Richland County and part of Morrow County for a district that is 60.8% Republican.

New assignments  

Not all of the proposed changes were good news for Republicans. Sen. Kristina Roegner’s 27th Senate district, which currently includes Wayne County and parts of Summit and Stark counties, became less secure.

By moving the district into Cuyahoga, Geauga and Summit counties, the seat becomes a virtual tossup. 

Under the GOP proposal, five Republican senators would be assigned to new districts where they don’t currently live. They include:

  • Sen. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirtland, assigned to the 18th district, which includes Geauga, Lake and Ashtabula counties. 
  • Sen. Mark Romanchuk, R-Ontario, assigned to the 22nd district, which includes Wayne, Ashland and Medina counties. 
  • Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, assigned to the 24th district, which includes western Cuyahoga County.
  • Sen. Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin, assigned to the 26th district, which stretches from Marion, Richland and Crawford counties in central Ohio to the state’s northwest corner.
  • Sen. Sandra O’Brien, R-Ashtabula, assigned to the 32nd district, which includes Portage and Trumbull counties. 

The changes set up a potential primary between Romanchuk and Reineke as well as Cirino and O’Brien. Dolan, who is term-limited in 2024, won’t have to face off against a colleague. 

Packing Democrats? 

For a map to pass constitutional muster, House districts must remain between 95% and 105% of 119,186 residents, which is the state’s population divided by 99 districts. In the GOP plan, several Democratic-leaning districts are pushing the upper limits.

For example, several House districts in Cuyahoga County are within 0.1% of their population limit, according to GOP data submitted with the plan.

The Ohio Redistricting Commission listens to an Ohioan voice his concern over the Ohio House and Senate district draft maps during a meeting at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio on September 9, 2021.

Voter advocates will be watching cities like Cleveland to ensure the votes of Black and other minority voters aren’t diluted. Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said Thursday that it was illegal to use race in drawing districts.

But race can be used to invalidate a map. In Thornberg v. Gingles, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that North Carolina lawmakers had violated the Voting Rights Act by creating seven new districts where Black voters would not be able to elect their preferred lawmakers.

Brandi Slaughter, executive director of the Ohio Council of Churches, said the GOP’s proposed map violates those principles. 

“These maps crack and pack Ohio’s community of color, diluting the power of the vote and denying adequate representation.”

Public hearings

For more information about how to testify, visit redistricting.ohio.gov/public-input

  • 4 p.m. Sunday, Washington Township RecPlex West, 965 Miamisburg Centerville Rd., Dayton, Ohio
  • 4 p.m. Monday, Tri-C Corporate College East, Super Conference Room (Room 126), 4400 Richmond Rd., Warrensville Heights
  • 10 a.m. Tuesday, Ohio House Finance Hearing Room (Room 313), Ohio Statehouse, Columbus
  • 10 a.m. Tuesday, remote testimony from Washington State Community College, Arts & Science Building Auditorium, 710 Colegate Dr., Marietta

USA TODAY Network Ohio bureau reporters Anna Staver and Jackie Borchardt contributed.

Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Akron Beacon Journal, Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

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