Ohio political map makers should get started, voting rights groups say

ajc.com

Just because the U.S. Census data is delayed doesn’t mean Ohio political leaders can’t get started on drawing new state legislative and Congressional district maps, say voting rights groups.

Fair Districts Ohio on Monday sent a letter to elected officials with recommendations to maximize transparency and public participation in the once-a-decade map making process.

Maps are re-drawn every decade following the U.S. Census, using the latest data. But the coronavirus pandemic injected delays into the national population count and data won’t be released to states until Sept. 30, instead of the usual early April. That means Ohio and other states will face compressed timelines for map making.

ExploreOhio to draw new political maps -- and it's the most important decision in the next 10 years

Fair Districts recommends that Ohio’s map makers consider bumping the 2022 primary from May to June, distributing money for legislative caucuses to begin planning and research, and establish a state website with public information on the process and a portal for Ohioans to submit suggested maps.

Step by Step: Ohio's new redistricting process
Step by Step: Ohio's new redistricting process

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Ohio should also consider drawing both state legislative and Congressional maps at the same time, rather than one after the other, and begin public hearings even before the new Census data is received, according to Jen Miller of the League of Women Voters of Ohio and Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio.

“At the end of the day, we are laying the groundwork for the next 10 years so it’s important to do it right,” Turcer said in an online news conference on Monday.

Ohio voters approved a new process for state legislative maps in November 2015 and a new process for congressional maps in May 2018. Each calls for more buy-in from the minority party, public participation, and a push for compact districts that keep communities together.

The new voter-approved processes put up guard rails that might help avoid highly partisan districts lines that squiggle across the state and get nicknames like the “snake on the lake” or “the duck.”

Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, previously said he expects funding for mapping software and staff will be included in the state budget, which is due to be approved by June 30. And he agrees that some of the preliminary work, such as public hearings, can start before the census data is delivered.

House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes has said that Ohio should begin hearings and preparations right away so that public participation isn’t shorted.

Step by step: Ohio's new redistricting process.
Step by step: Ohio's new redistricting process.

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen