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Ohio Senate Leader Drops Plan To Extend Redistricting Deadline Though Constitutional Amendment

In this April 11, 2019 file photo, David Niven, a professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati holds a map displaying the wide disparity of Ohio congressional district office locations,
John Minchillo
Associated Press
In this April 11, 2019 file photo, David Niven, a professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati holds a map displaying the wide disparity of Ohio congressional district office locations,

A plan to put a constitutional amendment up for an Ohio-wide vote in August has been scrapped. That amendment would have extended the deadline to draw new state legislative districts, since data from the U.S. Census Bureau has been delayed. Now officials are looking at other options. 

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) proposed the amendmentbut the idea did not gain bipartisan support. Wednesday was the deadline for the legislature to put a constitutional amendment on a ballot through a resolution. 

"I think it would be a bit of a fool's errand to try to put this on the ballot and spend three months arguing about it and it doesn't pass," Huffman said, citing the lack of widespread consensus in the General Assembly.  

The Ohio Redistricting Commission has until September 15 to approve new state legislative maps, comprising 99 House districts and 33 Senate districts. But the commission needs the census data to come up with a final plan.

The map would need approval from commissioners representing the minority party of the House and Senate, which are the Democrats, in order to go into effect for 10 years. A map can still be approved without minority party support, but would only last four years.   

The deadline for a new Congressional district map, a process that begins with the Ohio General Assembly, is later in the year. Ohio is set to lose one Congressional seat and go from 16 members to 15 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Huffman believes there is enough time for an agreement on a 10-year Congressional map to be reached. But he's less optimistic about a state legislative district map. 

"Because we're really going to have a constrained time frame to agree on a 10-year map and if we can't then it'll become a four-year map," Huffman said.  

Jen Miller, executive director for the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said the General Assembly and Redistricting Commission should begin their work now, so they can hit the ground running once the census data comes out.   

"We don't need the detailed census data to get started. We should be talking about the technical requirements of the maps, how to hear from a bunch of experts, and how to make sure the public is able to participate," Miller said.   

She also says lawmakers should begin to look at things from the backend of the redistricting process, such as delaying the 2022 primary in order to give elections officials and candidates more time to prepare. 

"Even a few weeks later, from May into early or mid-June, could make a difference for this state. Because once the maps are made then we need to get all voters into those new districts, we need to educate those voters that they will have new districts, candidates need to collect their signatures and file," Miller said.  

Ohio voters approved the redistricting reforms in 2015 and 2018 to prevent gerrymandering, where districts are drawn to favor one party over another. Along with the rules on bipartisan approval, the reform measures include guardrails for mapmakers to follow. This includes limiting how many times a county with a high population can be split, and requiring districts to follow local municipality border lines.  

Other state leaders have voiced concerns about the state creating new district maps in time. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate want to take a case to the Ohio Supreme Court in order to get an extension approved.

Meanwhile, Republican Attorney General Dave Yost has filed a lawsuit in federal court to force the U.S. Census Bureau to release its data sooner. That case was rejected by the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Ohio, but Yost says his appeal will be heard next week.   

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.