COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio Redistricting Commission faces yet another deadline regarding the redrawing of new congressional districts as members wait on Ohio House Speaker Robert Cupp bides his time on moving forward on a process that could have ended September 30.

The commission has not met since the Ohio General Assembly failed to consider, let alone pass, options for redistricting as the state prepares to lose one congressional district following the reapportionment of congressional representation among the states sparked by the 2020 U.S. census.

The commission can only meet when co-chairs Cupp (R-Lima) and Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) can agree on dates for hearings to present plans and negotiate suitable maps for both political parties.

Cupp has yet to respond to dates Sykes had suggested for an initial meeting of the commission, which had also failed in September to pass a 10-year state legislative maps with bipartisan support.

The resulting four-year map supported only by Cupp and other GOP members of the commission itself is under judicial scrutiny with the filing of three lawsuits before the Ohio Supreme Court challenging its fairness to Democrat voters and adherence to Ohio constitutional requirements.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose late last week sent out a public statement urging Cupp and Sykes to present congressional map options soon as the October 29 deadline for a map looms.

“The Commission should set a goal of developing maps that can provide the public an honest opportunity to provide substantive input,” LaRose wrote in the October 8 statement. “A big lesson learned from the our last experience (with the state legislative redistricting) is that we need every minute we can get to sit down together to consider proposed maps and negotiate in the hope of reaching a bipartisan consensus.”

The Ohio General Assembly, under the state’s voter-approved amendment to the Ohio Constitution revamping redistricting, had until September 30 to approve congressional maps without even taking up the issue. The Ohio Senate’s minority caucus, led by Sykes and Minority Leader Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights) in late September introduced Ohio Senate Bill 237 to demonstrate a constitutional map could get done.

In a HB 237  news release, Yuko said, “I’m hoping this can be a starting point to create a bipartisan map that meets the constitutional reforms Ohio voters demanded in 2018.”

Sykes aide Cole Calloway told The Ohio Star the co-chair had reached out to Cupp early last week about scheduling meetings but has not received a response.

“We contacted the Speaker’s office to express we wanted to have hearings,” Calloway said. “We’re still in the state of waiting.”

Cupp’s office also has not returned phone messages from The Star on Wednesday and Thursday. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s press office also did not return messages seeking the governor’s stance on redistricting.

Ohio Auditor Ken Faber, through his press secretary, said he awaits a notice from Cupp and Sykes.

“Auditor Faber is ready to meet when a meeting is called,” spokeswoman Allie Dumski wrote in a statement sent to The Star.

If the commission does not act by the last business day of October, the task of creating a congressional map for Ohio’s 15 districts returns to the Ohio General Assembly. Should that fail to produce a district map with bipartisan support, the GOP could force through a four-year map as happened in mid-September with the Ohio House and Ohio Senate districts.

“To try and get a ten-year General Assembly map, I literally worked with some commission members up to the eleventh hour in an effort to find a bipartisan compromise,” LaRose wrote. “Unfortunately, the clock ran out. That doesn’t have to happen again.”

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Brian R. Ball is a veteran Columbus journalist writing for The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Send him news tips at [email protected]
Photo “Ohio Statehouse” by CC BY-SA 4.0.