After hours of emotional testimonies from hundreds of Ohioans, the Ohio Redistricting Commission voted 5-2 along party lines to approve the state’s House and Senate district maps early Thursday morning.
Under the Republican plan, University District residents will be split between the 3rd District, encompassing Columbus’ northeast side, and the 7th District, which includes Grandview Heights. John Fortney, communications director for the Ohio Senate Majority Caucus, said in an email the Republican-drawn map will stand for only four more years rather than 10, since it was not approved by the necessary Democrats by midnight Wednesday.
“A 10-year map can be approved since it takes two votes of the minority party, and since there are two Democrats, they would both need to approve the map for it to be a 10-year map,” Fortney said. “If not, a four-year map can be approved by a simple majority.”
The Republican map, which the commission has used as a working draft, will favor Republicans by 67 percent – a veto-proof majority.
Republicans currently hold 64 out of the 99 seats in the House, according to the Ohio House of Representative website . They hold 25 out of 33 seats in the Ohio Senate, according to the Ohio Senate website .
Senate Democrats submitted their most recent proposals for districts in a Cleveland public meeting Monday.
In a statement, Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, said the Republican-proposed maps are concerning because they do not reflect statewide voter preferences over the last 10 years and failed to include racial and demographic data.
Ray DiRossi, budget director for the Ohio Senate Republican Caucus, said to the Ohio Redistricting Committee that the maps comply with requirements laid out in the Ohio Constitution. He added that the maps did not take race or demographics into consideration.
DiRossi did not respond to request for further comment.
Voter-approved changes to the Ohio Constitution in 2015 and 2018 added roadblocks to how mapmakers craft districts for the General Assembly, mandating that they not favor either political party and must look the way the state votes, Fortney said.
Under the 2015 changes, any legal challenge to the maps must be heard by the Ohio Supreme Court.
The commission is required to create a map that will be good for a decade and coincide with the release of census data, Fortney and Richard Gunther, a professor emeritus in political science, said. It missed a Sept. 1 deadline and caused an extension.
Republicans blame delayed census data on the pandemic, according to testimony at a commission meeting Sept. 9.
Advocates for fair maps attended the Sept. 9 meeting at the Statehouse, with many claiming a lack of transparency in the commission’s process, comparing the process to that of 2011, where the maps were drawn in secret in a Columbus hotel room over a period of 90 days, according to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.\
“I suppose cheating out in the open is a slight improvement over the secretive cheating used in 2011 to create our current district maps,” Melissa Stull, a resident of Gahanna, Ohio, said in a testimony.
Gunther said he believes a fairly elected legislature will reflect the opinions of voters and lead to greater support for higher education.
“Over the last 30 years, we’ve seen a drastic decrease in state support for higher education, which is a result of right-wing policies pursued by the legislature,” Gunther said. “This has meant that the only alternative is for the university to raise tuition.”
This story was updated at 10:40 a.m. Thursday to reflect the results of the redistricting vote.