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Coalition leaders say GOP redistricting plan wont fix Ohio gerrymandering

(January 22, 2018) — Critics of a recently introduced Republican congressional redistricting plan came together Monday to make their case against it, saying it could worsen gerrymandering.

Members of the Fair Districts = Fair Elections coalition spoke about their issues with Senator Matt Huffman’s redistricting proposal and argued in favor of their own plan, which they say would allow voters better representation.

Ohio NAACP President Tom Roberts said Huffman’s plan would “institutionalize” gerrymandering and worsen the situation in Ohio. Roberts also said Huffman’s plan, which allows large counties to be split multiple times, could fracture minority neighborhoods.

“All too often the lines are drawn to split minority communities apart,” Roberts said.

Ohio Majority Caucus Press Secretary John Fortney said the charge that Huffman’s plan would “institutionalize” gerrymandering is hypocritical.

“The allegation of ‘institutionalizing’ gerrymandering would be exactly what the Fair Districts plan does,” Fortney said. “They say they want to draw a map based on party percentages based on the last election. This is the epitome of gerrymandering in its purest form.”

Ann Henkener, representing the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said the Senate redistricting plan would perpetuate partisan gerrymandering and allow the process of partisan redistricting to continue indefinitely.

“So long as they can continue to break up large counties … there will really be no limits,” Henkener said. She also said Huffman’s plan, which doesn’t allow for a referendum to challenge the redrawn congressional maps via a statewide votes, takes away the voice of voters.

“Voters would be better served by real reform,” Henkener said. Her group is a key member of the Fair Elections coalition.

Fortney pointed out that the coalition’s plan does not include an option for referendum either.

Roberts said the NAACP opposes the Senate plan, but added that members of the Congressional Black Caucus don’t want to see African American representatives lose seats.

“I have to make sure that whatever happens doesn’t hurt the current members of the Congressional Black Caucus,” Roberts said. He said the Senate plan could be harmful, but added he hasn’t seen the Fair Districts proposal yet.

Huffman’s plan prohibits the splitting of counties more than once, except for Ohio’s 10 most populous counties. It also requires districts to be equal in population to within one person, would require a full district to be drawn inside the city of Columbus, and prohibits the splitting of cities with populations of over 100,000 if they are located in a county that is larger than a congressional district (Cleveland, Cincinnati).

The Fair Elections coalition says this plan could lead to gerrymandered districts due to its allowance of splits in larger counties. Their plan does not exclude Ohio’s 10 largest counties, and also requires representational fairness, so districts generally correspond to voting preferences of Ohio statewide votes during the past 10 years.

Members of the Fair Elections coalition say that Huffman’s plan, despite requiring a bipartisan vote to approve a new map for 10 years, would still allow Republicans to draw a map controlling 12 of 15 districts, as anticipated by the 2020 census.

Congressional redistricting has drawn widespread interest throughout the state. On Monday, Republican Mayor Lydia Mihalik of Findlay and Democratic Mayor Andrew Ginther of Columbus released a joint statement asking lawmakers to pursue a bipartisan solution to redistricting.

“The recent shutdown in Washington is a blunt reminder of the urgent need for congressional redistricting reform,” the statement reads. “While finding a bipartisan solution will not be easy, we urge both Republican and Democratic lawmakers to continue working towards a meaningful, bipartisan compromise that will bring both sides closer together and result in a ballot measure that can be broadly supported.”

Senate President Larry Obhof previously called criticism of Huffman’s plan “meritless,” and added that he hopes to pass the legislation by February 7 so that it could be put on the May ballot.

Members of the Fair Elections Commission plan to put their legislation on the November ballot by gathering about 306,000 valid signatures. Using strictly volunteers, they currently have around 200,000.

Sam Greshman, representing Common Cause-Ohio, a nonpartisan grassroots organization, said the organization would put their redistricting plan on the November ballot even if the Senate plan passes in May.

“We’re not going to give up simply because they put a proposal forward,” Gresham said.

Huffman’s plan gets another committee hearing Tuesday afternoon.

Ohio isn’t the only state with redistricting controversy. On Monday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the state’s newly-drawn congressional map, saying it “clearly, plainly and palpably” violated the state’s constitution, according to an Associated Press report.

The Democratic-controlled court gave the state’s Republican-controlled legislature a deadline of February 9 to approve a new congressional map, and gave Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, until February 15 to submit it to the court. The court said it would adopt a plan for the state’s May primary if the legislature didn’t act by then.

Republican lawmakers in the state were angered by the decision, saying it lacks clarity.