By Catherine Turcer, Common Cause Ohio
On Thursday February 4, 2016, the Legislative Branch and Executive Branch Committee of the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission (OCMC) appeared poised to vote on a congressional redistricting reform proposal similar to the one past in November that focuses on the state legislature.
The Legislative and Executive Branch Committee has been discussing redistricting reform since July 2013.
Instead of holding the scheduled vote Chair Fred Mills proposed establishing a four-member subcommittee to negotiate some last minute sticking points, the amendments proposed by committee member state Senator Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus). She is also the co-chair of the full commission.
Tavares’ proposed amendments include:
On Wednesday, OCMC member and former member of both houses of the Ohio General Assembly Jeff Jacobson sent an email urging the committee to postpone the vote. Jacobson was one of the negotiators that helped to craft the legislation that became November 2015’s Issue 1.
Committee Chair Mills said that he “came to the position late yesterday/early today that I didn't think we were prepared to discuss each amendment and make an up and down decision today.”
Former Speaker Jo Ann Davidson agreed with the Chair. She highlighted her support of congressional redistricting reform and urged the committee members to act in a bipartisan fashion and “look to the success of Issue 1.”
State Senator Bill Coley (R-Liberty Township) questioned whether it is possible to draw congressional districts with new compactness requirements and defended the current congressional map as constitutional and meeting federal requirements, “The aspirations supporters have of creating a fair and balanced map were the same aspirations mapmakers tried to adhere to in 2011.
"Have you drawn a map using your new proposal and not violating the one man, one vote principle and not violating the principles set forth in the Federal Voting Rights Act? I contend that you probably can't do it."
Representative Michael Curtin (D-Marble Cliff) didn’t disagree with the formation of a subcommittee.
"Most Ohioans that have taken a look at the congressional map in Ohio believe it to be a very, very bad map," Representative Curtin said. "Ohioans deserve better than that and it is simply not that difficult among well-intentioned people of both parties to draw a fair map in full compliance with the Federal Voting Rights Act and the case law interpreting the Federal Voting Rights Act."
Professor Emeritus Herb Asher who said he was "nervous" about the idea of allowing unresolved issues to head to the General Assembly.
After more discussion the Committee voted to establish a subcommittee which will include Chair Fred Mills, Vice Chair and Franklin County Commissioner Paula Brooks, state Senator Tavares and state Representative Robert McColley (R-Napoleon). Subcommittee recommendations are due within six weeks.
The state legislature does not have to wait on this recommendation. It could act now by passing similar legislation that has already been introduced or moving the OCMC committee’s proposal as a new piece of legislation. The legislature can put congressional redistricting reform before the voters if passed by 60% of the members of both chambers.
Urge Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger to fix gerrymandering of congressional districts and not stand in the way of more robust, fair elections.