Analysis: Ohio's GOP is about to pull another fast one on redistricting
Once again, the best advertisement for taking Ohio's redistricting process out of the hands of elected officials is the Republican majority on the Ohio Redistricting Commission.
The seven members of the commission — five of whom are Republican elected officials — were supposed to meet in a hastily-arranged session Wednesday to begin the process of coming up with new maps for state legislative districts in 2024.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose — a member of the commission and Ohio's chief elections officer — has set what appears to be an imaginary deadline of Sept. 22 to accomplish this feat.
Then, Wednesday morning, they met and had to stop because they couldn't agree on co-chairs for the commission,
And, Thursday afternoon, the Friday meeting was cancelled because the Republican infighting on their choice for co-chair is still going on.
More days wasted by the Republicans.
Will the GOP majority be using the time between now and Sept. 22 to make maps that are more balanced, competitive, and fair to both sides?
Don't count on it.
"I have entered every round of this process with the hope that the result will be something both sides can live with," said Ohio House Minority Leader Allison Russo, one of two Democratic members of the commission. "And every time, I have been disappointed."
LaRose — who couldn't be reached for comment on this column — says Ohio's 88 county boards of elections have to have legal descriptions of 2024 state legislative maps by Nov. 6.
Oct. 23, LaRose told his fellow commission members, is the "latest possible date for the commission to enact a new district plan." He suggested they wrap up their work by Sept 22.
"While I hope the commission can approve a district plan that avoids litigation, the recent history of this process shows chaos and delay are commonly used tactics," LaRose wrote.
LaRose is apparently referring to those pesky voter rights groups who dared to challenge the GOP maps in the Ohio Supreme Court last year, winning every time.
Russo seems to think there is some political street theater going on here.
"I think there is a map in the background, already done and ready to go," Russo said.
It is, she said, "a charade."
It's plenty of time to approve a set of gerrymandered maps, cutting the public and the two Democrats out of the process, and then scooting it through the scrutiny of the Ohio Supreme Court. That should be a snap. After all, the new Ohio Supreme Court is without former Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, who sided with the three Democrats on the court to reject the GOP maps time after time in 2022.
Any maps produced by the Republicans now will likely be rubber-stamped by the court's GOP majority.
So why bother to produce balanced maps that truly reflect the partisan split of Ohio? They are free to adopt maps that will not only set in stone the GOP supermajority in the legislature but satisfy their own personal political interests.
"There is no sincere interest in a sincere process, but it is best not to just come out and say so," said David Niven, professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati. "Therefore, it's time to issue urgent deadlines."
Then there is the question that LaRose and his fellow Republicans on the commission will not answer: You have known since May of last year — 16 months ago — that you would have to approve new maps. Why wait until the last minute?
The only possible answer is that they wanted to create a false sense of urgency to do something they fully intended to do all along — pass maps with little public input, with no real role for the commission Democrats to play, all in order to preserve the Republican dominance of Ohio's government.
There is no other way to explain it.
Sixteen months without a meeting of the Ohio Redistricting Commission.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, one of the Republican commission members, could have called a meeting at any time since the last meeting in May 2022. Instead they wait and try to run out the clock and try to slide another piece of partisan gerrymandering through when they think no one is looking.
Is this what 71% of Ohio voters wanted in 2015 when they created the commission as a redistricting reform measure?
Not even close.
There seems to be only one pathway out of this mess.
A coalition of redistricting reform advocates called Citizens Not Politicians is working to mount a petition campaign to place a plan on the Nov. 2024 ballot that would replace the current Ohio Redistricting Commission with a 15-member body made up of Republicans, Democrats and independents.
There would be one requirement for members of the 15-member commission: elected officials need not apply. Citizens only. They would be tasked with taking input from hired mapmakers and from the public, and approving maps.
It's modeled loosely after the system in Michigan, which was approved by voters three years ago. The Michigan Redistricting Commission was a success; in the 2022 election it produced a sea change in the makeup of the state legislature, which went from red to blue.
There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth on social media by Ohio Republican politicians who find the idea of taking redistricting out of their hands most disturbing. Maybe that's a sign the reformers are on to something.
Maybe it's time for Ohio to stop letting the politicians chose their voters and let the voters choose their politicians.