By Wendy Underhill
On Tuesday, Ohio’s voters overwhelmingly said “yes” to changing how congressional districts will be adopted in the Buckeye State, come 2021. This is not only a big deal for Ohio but is also a major development in the often highly contentious redistricting process.
Since the 2010 redistricting cycle, only two states have made significant changes. New York did so in 2014. And in 2015, Ohio voters approved an amendment to put a bipartisan commission in charge of legislative redistricting, at that point leaving congressional redistricting in the control of the legislature.
The newly adopted Ohio constitutional amendment gives legislators the first shot at enacting congressional maps. Under the new approach, unique in the country, maps must receive a three-fifths vote in both chambers to pass—and the “yes” votes must include 50 percent of the votes of the minority party. That means a supermajority isn’t enough, and bipartisanship will be more than a token.
If the legislature is unable to pass a congressional plan that meets that two-part standard, the job will pass to the redistricting commission, as reformulated in 2015. Bipartisan support is built in for that seven-member panel; at least two members of the minority party must vote for approval.
If the commission can’t come to agreement, legislators get a second whack at drawing the congressional plan. In the second round, if they can pass a plan with a three-fifths vote and votes from 33 percent of the minority caucus, they’re golden. If they can’t, they can pass a plan with a simple majority. The penalty for not getting bipartisan support is that the new plan is good for only four years. After that, the process starts again.
Under New York’s new system, the Legislature continues to have final say, and yet a commission will be plenty powerful. Its job is to draw maps and submit them to the Legislature for an up-or-down vote. If the lawmakers aren’t satisfied, the advisory commission develops a second set of plans. Again, there’s an up-or-down vote. It’s only on the third try that the legislature can amend the plans the commission develops.
Both the new systems, in New York and Ohio, chart new territory by breaking a longstanding either/or construct. In the past, either the legislature oversaw redistricting, or a commission was in charge. Now, with New York’s change and Ohio’s latest shift, it’s either/both. Both because these new plans—while quite different—both have a role for a commission and a role for the legislature.
Are these two hybrid plans, with the legislature and a commission balancing power, a trend? Not yet—a trend takes three. From here, as our president might say, we’ll see what happens.
Wendy Underhill is NCSL’s director for elections and redistricting.