Redistricting bills propose big changes in line drawing process

Nov 18, 2014

The Constitutional Modernization Commission had looked at various options for improving redistricting, a process that’s generally blamed for creating legislative and congressional districts that favor one party over another. 

The panel was very close to bringing a plan forward.  But now, two new bills have surfaced. Republican Representative Matt Huffman is the sponsor of these new plans.

“The redistricting proposal that we have basically requires the minority party to vote on the map and approve any new redistricting maps, both congressional and state legislative seats,” Huffman said.  “So that would be the first in a new proposal for the state of Ohio.  And if that’s not achievable, the minority won’t approve it, it would be left up to the voters.”

Huffman says his plans encourage cooperation and would insure the resulting map is fair.

Huffman “One of the problems that we have now and the problem this is designed to address is the majority can look at the minority party and say ‘We can do whatever we want’ and there’s only a few things the minority party can do to keep that from happening,” Huffman said.  “Essentially this process puts the process on a much fairer ground.”

Huffman’s plans take the courts and the governor out of the map approval process - instead, a map dispute would go to voters as a ballot issue.  But critics of the plan say that would also be unfair.  Dan Tokaji, a professor at the OSU Moritz College of Law, says voters could be steered to vote “no” by the issue’s wording.

“I can tell you with virtual certainty what the outcome of those voters would be,” Tokaji said.  “Why?  Because people distrust the state legislature, not without good reason, and they distrust any commission so predictably when voters are asked this question, they will almost certainly vote no.”

Tokaji says these bills actually make the redistricting process worse by giving more authority to the majority party.

“It is the dominant party that holds the whip in its hand and can beat the opposing party, the minority, into subjection with it,” Tokaji said. “As a practical matter, the minority party has no real leverage under this proposal.”

Ohio State University Professor Dr. Richard Gunther, also remains unimpressed.

“This is not reform,’’ Gunther said. “ This is really a Trojan horse for entrenching in power the current legislative majority and having that spill over into a huge super majority in our congressional delegation.”

Backers of the new redistricting plans hope to pass them in the few weeks during the lame duck session of the legislature.  Opponents are hoping to raise enough questions about them to put pressure on lawmakers to stop the adoption of the plan.