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Voters to help decide redistricting reform on May ballot

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Ohio Congressional Districts Map. Photo via Ohio Secretary of State.

While imperfect, lawmakers say the passage in both houses of the Ohio General Assembly is an example of bipartisan success. 

The Ohio General Assembly passed a bipartisan proposal that would give Ohioans the opportunity to reform the process in which congressional districts are created.

Senate Joint Resolution 5 passed in the state Senate on Monday with a 31-0 vote, which sent the resolution to the Ohio House for a vote Tuesday. The Ohio House voted 83-10 in favor of the resolution, sending the proposal to ballot in May.

If Ohioans vote for the proposal, the changes would take effect in 2021 during the next redistricting process. It would require 50 percent of the minority party’s votes to approve a congressional map for the next decade. The map must keep 65 counties whole within the congressional districts and could split up to 18 counties once and up to 5 counties twice.

Should Ohio lawmakers fail to pass a map, the task will be delegated to a seven-member redistricting commission. If the redistricting commission fails, Ohio lawmakers have another opportunity to pass a map, requiring one third of the minority party to vote for the map. If no compromise can be made, the map will only apply for the next four years. The governor’s signature is required for all maps created by the General Assembly.

Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-District 27, voted against SJR 5, claiming that “this was totally done to undermine a citizen initiative.”

Brinkman was referring to the “Fair Districts = Fair Elections Coalition,” a coalition dedicated to ending gerrymandering in Ohio. The coalition has its own version of the proposed amendment but has about two-thirds of the 300,000 signatures required to put the proposal on the ballot in May.

Rep. John Becker, R-District 65, also voted against SJR 5. He believes the language used in the resolution is too ambiguous and noted that there were different interpretations of the use of the word ‘unduly’ as it appears in the resolution.

“A key word that bothered me was ‘unduly,’” Rep. Becker said. “In the context, it is a matter of if there’s no agreement between the majority and minority parties, then the majority party will create a four year map provided that it meet a couple of criteria, one of which is that it does not ‘unduly’ benefit the majority party.

“There’s differences in opinion in what it [unduly] means and, at the end of the day, whatever the courts say it means is what it means, and that concerns me.”

Rep. John Boccieri, D-District 16, also expressed opposition to the bill.

“I have a problem with designating a batch of communities that can be carved up by partisan map drafters, I have a problem that legislators didn’t go far enough to define what it means that maps cannot be drawn to unduly favor or disfavor a political party,” Boccieri said in a press release.

However, the resolution is considered by many lawmakers to be an imperfect yet bipartisan success.

“While I am still concerned about the splitting of Ohio’s largest population counties and the lack of provision to guarantee voting rights, SJR 5 is a marked improvement over Ohio’s current method of drawing our congressional districts,” Rep. Kent Smith, D-District 8, said.

Additionally, Rep. Stephanie Howse, D-District 11, who also voted in favor of the resolution, said, “The process outlined in the resolution is not perfect, but it is a step forward to strengthening our democracy and drawing congressional districts that equitably represent Ohio.”

Voters will have the chance to vote on the potential amendment to the Ohio Constitution in May.

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