Competing redistricting plans emerge in Ohio

By JULIE CARR SMYTH, AP Statehouse Correspondent
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A pair of competing proposals aimed at changing Ohio’s rules for congressional map-making could appear on separate statewide ballots later this year.
The dueling proposals come amid national concern that current gerrymandered maps — in Ohio and other states — are largely responsible for the heightened partisanship and gridlock in Washington.
Democrats, Republicans and voter advocacy groups all agree changes are needed, just not on what they should look like. Here’s a look at how Ohio’s system works now and details of both reform proposals:
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OHIO’S CURRENT SYSTEM
States must redraw their congressional district boundaries every 10 years to align with updated U.S. Census figures.
Ohio currently has 16 representatives in the U.S. House. It’s expected to lose another congressional seat in 2020 after population losses are tallied, for a net loss of nine seats since 1971. The new map would go into effect in 2022.
Under current law, Ohio’s state Legislature draws the new lines.
All maps face some restrictions. The U.S. Constitution requires each district to have about the same number of people. The federal Voting Rights Act contains provisions designed to prevent splintering, packing or manipulating minority populations in a manner that impedes their political participation.
But the sway this process gives to the Legislature’s majority party — currently the Republicans — has fueled calls for years for a fairer, more bipartisan system.
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STATE LAWMAKER’S FIX
State Sen. Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, proposed a resolution Jan. 17 that he said “is fair and equitable no matter which party is in the majority.” He’d like to see it make this May’s ballot.
Under the plan:
— The Legislature would propose a 10-year map that requires a three-fifth vote in each chamber and a one-third minority vote to be enacted.
— Consideration is given to making districts more compact, limiting splits of counties, prohibiting dividing or carving out a congressional district within a county, and disallowing multiple splits of counties to elongate districts, as was done with Ohio’s last map.
— Smaller counties could not be split more than once; populous ones could be split more.
— If the Legislature can’t agree, the process goes to the bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission. Any new 10-year map would require four of seven commission votes, including at least two from minority-party members. If the panel can’t agree, a four-year map would go into effect.
— The Legislature could approve the four-year map as the new 10-year map with a 50-percent vote in each chamber that includes one-fifth of the minority party.
Opponents said the plan leaves the Legislature in charge and doesn’t go far enough to require approval by both parties. They charges that differing splitting rules for small and large would disadvantage Democrats concentrated in urban areas.
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VOTING ADVOCATES’ PLAN
Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio, a coalition that includes the League of Women Voters, Ohio NAACP and Common Cause, is gathering signatures to place a constitutional redistricting amendment on November’s ballot.
Their proposal would:
— Transfer responsibility for redrawing congressional district lines to the bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission, which includes the governor, secretary of state, state auditor and one person each appointed by the Ohio House and Senate majority and minority leaders.
— Allow any Ohio citizen to propose a plan for the Commission’s consideration.
— Prohibit any district map from being drawn to favor or disfavor a political party or candidates and requires it to closely correspond to the state’s overall partisan make-up.
— Require any district map to minimize splitting of counties, municipalities and townships and prohibit splitting any county more than once.
— Contain districts that are nearly equal in population as well as geographically contiguous and compact and that respect the Voting Rights Act and other state and federal laws.
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Follow Julie Carr Smyth on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jcarrsmyth.