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Anti-gerrymandering advocates voice opposition to map with 'weird shapes and squiggly lines'

 Voter rights advocates look over new Congressional map after it was introduced in a Senate committee.
Voter rights advocates look over new Congressional map after it was introduced in a Senate committee.

Voter rights advocates say the political breakdown of the map goes against anti-gerrymandering reforms passed by voters in 2018. But Republican leaders say their map follows the Constitution.

Those advocates had a chance to examine the map moments after it was officially introduced in the Ohio Senate. But instead of looking over detailed maps using what are known as "shapefiles," they crowded around a large print-out of the new Congressional district map, which sat on an easel in a Senate committee hearing room.

The local government and elections committee was in a recess, which allowed people like Jen Miller with the League of Women Voters to take a closer look at the map.

"It doesn't pass the eyeball test. It is full of weird shapes and squiggly lines," said Miller. "Maps don't look like this unless you're trying to secure a partisan outcome rather than fairly representing voters."

The timing of the new map came as a surprise to those who have been following the redistricting process. Moving at an atypical government pace, the map was announced on Monday evening, passed out of committee on Tuesday morning, then received approval by a party-line vote in the Ohio Senate Tuesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, the Ohio House scheduled a full chamber vote to happen two days later.

The map creates 12 districts that favor Republicans. That's 80% of Ohio's Congressional districts in a state where Republican candidates have averaged about 54% of the vote in statewide elections.

According to "Dave's Redistricting," a national analytical tool, the Congressional district map creates five districts where Republican voters outnumber Democratic voters by more than 20%, and two districts where Republican voters outnumber Democratic voters by more than 10%.

There are six districts where the margin between registered Republicans and Democrats is below 10%. Of those districts, five lean in favor of Republicans.

There are only two districts in the Congressional map approved by the Ohio Senate that heavily favor Democrats. Those districts are in Franklin County and Cuyahoga County.

Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) said the political breakdown might not mean much. He argues that elections can be unpredictable and the outcome can depend on the candidate.

"We should really be careful about drawing bright lines here and deciding that these bright lines are the end all be all arbiter of how these districts and these races are going to shake out, cause that's not how elections work," said McColley.

Katy Shanahan is Ohio state director for "All On The Line", a group funded by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. She says Republican leaders failed to follow the anti-gerrymandering reforms passed by voters in 2018.

"We sent a clear message on redistricting that we wanted an open, transparent redistricting process that ultimately ended in a fair congressional map. Unfortunately, the Republicans have throughout the entirety of this process sent Ohioans a much different message. They don't care," said Shanahan.

McColley counters by saying Republican leaders did not set out to create an even split of safe districts for Republicans and Democrats.

"I don't think that's what the voters wanted when they approved the issue in the election to make this constitutional amendment. They want competitive districts. They want districts that are responsive to what's going on out in society and what's going on in our country. This map gives competitive districts," McColley said.

But the redistricting reforms put provisions in the Constitution saying the Ohio House and Senate could not pass a new Congressional map that "unduly favors or disfavors a political party or its incumbents."

With Republicans holding a supermajority, the Ohio House is poised to approve the map, which needs to be signed by the governor by the end of the month. It would only be good for four years without Democratic support.

Voter rights groups are challenging the new state legislative district maps, which retains a Republican supermajority for the Ohio House and Senate.

The League of Women Voters says another court challenge to the Congressional map is also on the table.

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