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OLBC: Huffman Redistricting Amendment Needs to Prioritize Public Input

Fair Districts Necessitate a Transparent, Bipartisan Process
April 28, 2021
Democrat Newsroom

In response to a proposed constitutional amendment from Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC) is deeply concerned with the potential of reducing or eliminating public hearings and public input from the redistricting process. 

“Voters spoke loudly and clearly when they approved redistricting reform a few years ago; they expect their voices to be heard. With that in mind, we must ensure that any proposed constitutional amendment or other change to the process allows ample time for public testimony. Ohioans deserve nothing less,” said OLBC President Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton).

“I’m very skeptical that a Constitutional amendment is appropriate. I don’t believe we have adequate time to give the proposal proper consideration. It would be contrary to the spirit of the reforms passed by Ohio voters to give future legislative majorities the power to shorten the deadlines without support from the minority in both chambers,” said Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron).

The OLBC believes the legislature should focus on passing a public submission bill right away, not on amending the constitutional redistricting process. While attention to this fundamental issue from leadership is appreciated, the focus of this attention must adjust. Today, the U.S. Census Bureau completed data processing for the first 2020 Census results — state population counts used to apportion the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives among the 50 states. Ohioans have just lost a congressional seat; now is not the time to cut out the public process in redistricting.

In 2015 and 2018, Ohio voters overwhelmingly supported redistricting reform measures to create a fair, bipartisan, accountable, and transparent redistricting process that will make politicians accountable to the voters. Then-Representatives Huffman and Vernon Sykes, now senators, collaborated on “fair and balanced standards for the drawing of General Assembly districts, including that no districts should be drawn to favor a political party.” Without proper protections for public input, President Huffman’s proposed constitutional amendment lacks the critical components that dismantle the continued drawing of unfair districts. Often at the expense of Black and brown communities, these maps were drawn in secret. We must follow through on the 2015 and 2018 efforts to insure the public has input and that communities are represented.

Using the guise of the delay in Census data does not justify giving the General Assembly free rein to reconfigure the redistricting schedule that was approved by voters in 2015 and 2018. The Census delay should be addressed by extending all of the deadlines by the same amount of time, so that the overall process begins later but the schedule otherwise remains fixed. This can be done either through an alternative constitutional amendment, or by seeking relief from the Ohio Supreme Court. Either way, what is crucial in our response is preserving the ability for the people of Ohio to be able to provide their input on proposed maps and for maps to be drawn in as fair and transparent a manner as possible. The OLBC will continue to work with leadership to do what is fundamentally right for all Ohioans. This includes passing a public submission bill and ensuring that nothing is done to reduce the time period – both before and after maps are drawn – for public hearings. This lives up to the spirit of the bipartisan 2015 and 2018 reforms and is a minimum owed to our constituents.

The OLBC is calling on President Huffman and Republican leadership to abandon this constitutional amendment and to instead focus on passing a public submission bill. Ohioans are promised a transparent and fair redistricting process and districts. President Huffman must keep his 2015 and 2018 promises to Ohioans.

The proposed amendment is neither fair, nor bipartisan, nor transparent. It can allow the legislature alone to dictate what the redistricting process schedule should be - with no bipartisan requirements, and due to the condensed timeline - public input and transparency are completely removed. This would allow for a secretive, partisan map drawing process, without any public or advocate knowledge, setting all Ohioans back decades to a time when closed door deals and single party rule were the norm in our redistricting process. 

Enough is enough. We stand with Ohioans to adamantly oppose this amendment and support a transparent and open process for representing our distinct communities and constituencies.