COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio Redistricting Commission failed for a second time on Saturday to reach the bipartisan consensus necessary to pass 10-year maps of state legislative districts based on 2020 census totals.
Despite being scolded by the state's high court, the seven-member panel approved new maps along party lines in the face of a court-set Saturday deadline. That means the maps would again be good for just four years, rather than the 10 intended through the census-driven redistricting process.
House Democratic Leader-elect Allison Russo, who cast a no vote, called the action shameful.
"Ultimately, this is not an issue of geography or technical inability to draw fair maps," she said, on behalf of opponents. "It is a lack of political courage and a blatant disregard for the court's order and the will of the Ohio voters."
The high court has reserved the right to review the panel's proposed change. Voting rights and Democratic groups successfully challenged an earlier round of maps as an extreme partisan gerrymander.
Republicans defended their own maps of the district as the only ones that abided by all the elements of the Ohio Constitution, pointing to the fact that they did deliver Democrats more seats than the previous plan.
The two parties failed to come together despite behind-the-scenes negotiations that panelists said took place between the staff of commissioners of both parties for nearly all 10 of the days since the court's ruling. The transparency was a distinct change from last time when three Republican statewide officials on the panel said GOP lawmakers largely shut them out of backroom map-making deliberations.
Senate Finance Director Ray DiRossi helped lead Republican map-drawing efforts. He repeatedly declined to provide specific evidence of what exactly prevented the GOP from attempting to get closer to the state's 54% Republican-46% Democratic political divide with its maps.
"We have done nothing but attempt for the last nine-and-a-half days," he said. "Every ounce of our effort, collectively and individually, and all of the other staff have been towards complying with the court rulings. Everything we've done has done that, so my life for the last nine-and-a-half days would be my evidence."
Justices reserved the right to review the new plans, which include 57 Republican-leaning and 42 Democratic House seats and 20 Republican and 13 Democratic Senate seats — though with some districts so closely divided that they could be election toss-ups.
The first round of maps included 62 of 99 Ohio House seats that favored Republicans, or about 62%, and 23 of 33 Ohio Senate seats that favored the GOP, or nearly 70%, by the calculations of Republican Senate President Matt Huffman, a chief map-drawer. That was despite Ohio's voter mix being roughly 54% Republican to 46% Democratic.
Ohio is using a new redistricting process for this first time this year for both legislative and congressional maps established through statewide ballot issues in 2015 and 2018 that received overwhelming voter support were left with little choice.
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