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The Ohio General Assembly has approved a proposed amendment, SJR 5 (132nd GA (2018)), to add a new Article, Article XIX, to the Ohio Constitution to address congressional redistricting.  The proposed amendment will be on the May 8, 2018, ballot, and Ohio voters will have to approve this amendment for it to become part of the Ohio Constitution.

In November 2015, Ohio voters approved an amendment proposed by the General Assembly to revise the way in which state legislative district lines are drawn and the standards for drawing these lines.  This process, known as Apportionment, is addressed in Article XI of the Ohio Constitution, and it does not deal with congressional redistricting, which has been left in the hands of the General Assembly.

The 2015 amendment created an Ohio Legislative Districting Commission to address state apportionment, and the proposed amendment would give this Commission the authority to also address congressional redistricting.

Congressional redistricting has become a visible issue given the fact that in this relatively evenly split state, one political party has 12 of the 16 congressional seats.  The need for significant changes in the district lines will become more acute after the 2020 census, since Ohio will likely lose one seat in Congress.

A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch succinctly described the proposal as follows:

The proposed constitutional amendment sets up a bipartisan process to draw a new 10-year map, significantly changing the current map-drawing process that allows the majority to work alone, gerrymandering districts to its benefit. Republicans have held a firm grip on 12 of Ohio’s 16 congressional districts since drawing the map in 2011, and few races have been competitive.

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Unlike the current process, which requires no minority-party support and has few rules that need followed, the new proposal initially requires 50 percent of the minority party in each chamber to approve a map for 10 years. It also would limit how often counties can be split into multiple congressional seats, and it would require public hearings and the ability for the public to submit maps.

Under that plan, 65 counties cannot be divided, 18 can be divided once and five can be divided twice into three congressional districts. Currently, many counties are split, such as Cuyahoga and Summit counties in Democrat-rich northeast Ohio that are split into four districts as Republicans sliced them up for partisan advantage.

If the legislature is unable to come to a bipartisan agreement, the multi-step process moves to a seven- member commission consisting of the governor, auditor, secretary of state and four lawmakers, where a 10-year map would require at least two minority-party votes.

If that fails, the process goes back to the legislature, where it would require a three-fifths vote in each chamber, including one-third of each minority caucus, to pass a 10-year map.

If there’s still no deal, the majority can draw a four-year map on its own, but it would be under stricter criteria, including prohibitions against several acts — “unduly” splitting counties and other jurisdictions, drawing a district that favors or disfavors a party, or drawing districts to favor incumbents. That process also would require the majority to formally justify why it decided to draw each district, which advocates say would hold them accountable to the courts and the public.

Any map that is approved would be subject to a potential governor’s veto, or a ballot referendum that attempts to overturn the map.

Jim Siegel, Bipartisan deal finalized, voters to decide congressional redistricting changes (Dispatch) (2-6-2018)

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