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Redistricting Showdown Continues at Statehouse

A Congressional redistricting bill sponsored by state Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, needs to be approved by Feb. 7 to make it on the May ballot. (Ohio Senate)
A Congressional redistricting bill sponsored by state Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, needs to be approved by Feb. 7 to make it on the May ballot. (Ohio Senate)
January 24, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio lawmakers will hear testimony Wednesday on a congressional redistricting proposal that is facing stiff opposition.

Republican Sen. Matt Huffman of Lima introduced Senate Joint Resolution 5, which he says is a fair and equitable proposal that ensures districts are compact and communities are kept whole as much as possible.

But Dan Vicuna, national redistricting director for the watchdog group Common Cause, contends the measure misses the mark.

"It's a sham reform proposal that would keep the power to draw congressional maps in the hands of legislators,” he points out. “It would avoid any sort of reform to ban partisan gerrymandering.

“It eliminates important protections such as the right of citizens to use a referendum process to overturn unfair maps."

Under SJR 5, the Ohio Legislature would propose a 10-year map that requires a three-fifths vote in each chamber and a one-third minority vote to be enacted.

While Huffman says it gives the minority party a significant role in the process, critics counter it's not bipartisan.

The measure also removes the governor's ability to veto any unfair maps.

Common Cause is part of the Fair Districts = Fair Elections Coalition, which is working to put a citizen-driven congressional redistricting reform measure on the November ballot.

It mirrors the legislative district reform passed in 2015, which includes requirements for bipartisanship.

Vicuna says democracy is damaged when one party controls how maps are drawn.

"The right of the people to fair representation takes a back seat to partisan interests, to petty political squabbles,” he states. “You see elected officials drawing big donors into their districts, drawing potential opponents out, ensuring that their party can win seats."

California and Iowa are among states that recently have removed their legislatures from the map drawing process – a move that Vicuna says is much needed here. He explains congressional districts should show Ohio's political diversity as a battleground state.

"The politics of the congressional districts, of representation in the state Legislature, should reflect that,” he stresses. “We want to see healthy competition during the general election because that's the Ohio way to give voters a real chance and a real choice."

SJR 5 must be approved by Feb. 7 in order to go before voters on the May ballot.

Meanwhile, the Fair Districts = Fair Elections Coalition has collected about half of the signatures needed by July to get its measure on the November ballot.

This collaboration is produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded by the George Gund Foundation.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH