WYSO

Lawmakers Say Redistricting Reform Will Create Fairer System

Dec 15, 2014

Ohio Statehouse
Credit thoth188 / Flickr Creative Commons

Ohio lawmakers have finally come to a bipartisan agreement on redistricting that many are calling historic. The process of drawing lines for legislative districts has been controversial in the past, but an agreement passed in the Senate Friday will be sold to Ohioans as a way to make that process more fair.

“This is the most significant bi-partisan activity that I have been involved in in my time here in the House and the general assembly,” said Democratic State Representative Vernon Sykes, who’s leaving after 26 years in the statehouse.

The plan is similar to the one passed by the Ohio House last week. It still requires more input from the party in the minority, but Republican Senate President Keith Faber says the major change comes in the impasse agreement, or the plan for what will happen if a proposed new map doesn’t get enough support from the party that isn’t in power at the time the map is drawn.

“The biggest difference is whether you are going to do maps for the entire decade or a shorter period of time,” Faber said. “We have agreed to do maps for four years on the first impasse and then the second would be for six years. I think that gives everybody sufficient risks to make everybody have serious negotiations to get the job done up front.”

Now that lawmakers have reached agreement on legislative redistricting, attention turns to the public. Voters will have to approve this change in the Ohio constitution, but lawmakers are optimistic about that. As Republican Representative Matt Huffman explains, this proposal should be much easier for the public to understand than the current process.

“I don’t know ultimately that the maps the public will see, at first glance, will look much different but they will be, in fact, the product of a much better process and a much clearer process and one that the public will be able to follow and understand,” Huffman said.

“It’s a win for the voters in the state of Ohio because we have more competitive districts now and when I am going out and talking to people in districts, that is what they want,” said Democratic Senator Joe Schiavoni.

The one senator who voted against the new plan, Republican Bill Seitz, said he did so because he thought the process of coming up with this proposal was too rushed.

And advocates were closely watching the vote, too.

“It’s always scary when they are making late night, early morning decisions and the last amendment is over a comma,”  said Catherine Turcer with Common Cause Ohio, who went down to the Statehouse in the middle of the night. “You are talking about a constitutional change so that made me a little squeamish.”

But Turcer says she’s cautiously optimistic the newly passed bipartisan proposal will win voter approval in the end. It now looks like this proposal would go before voters in the fall of 2015.