State Rep. Jay Edwards, R- Nelsonville was one of four Republicans who broke ranks with the party on Thursday by voting against adopting a new congressional district map that splits Appalachian Ohio among three different districts. The approved map, which Gov. Mike DeWine signed into effect on Saturday, gives Republican candidates a significant electoral advantage — but only for the next four years.
In 2018, Ohio voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that was supposed to end partisan control of redistricting following the decennial census. The new process, which took effect in January, requires approval from 60% of the legislature as a whole and at least 50% among each of the two parties holding the most seats — usually Democrats and Republicans. If the legislature cannot agree on a map, the bipartisan redistricting commission that draws maps for Ohio's General Assembly must approve the map by a 4-7 vote. If that fails, the map goes back to the legislature with a lower voting standard: 60% of all members and only one-third from each party. If the chamber still cannot agree, the map can be adopted by simple majority vote, but can be used for only two election cycles.
State Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction, who represents Athens, voted in favor of the Congressional maps.
No Democrats voted to approve the map on Thursday.
The new district map places Athens County and a small portion of Washington County in District 12, which encompasses all of Knox, Licking, Fairfield, Perry, Morgan, Guernsey, Muskingum and Coshocton counties along with portions of Washington and Holmes counties. Vinton, Meigs and Hocking counties are in District 2 along with Jackson, Gallia, Lawrence, Socioto, Adams, Brown, Clermont and Highland counties, as well as the eastern edge of Hamilton County and most of Ross County. Most of Washington County is in District 6, which runs along the state's eastern border to Trumbull County.
Edwards said he has heard from constituents that they wanted southeast Ohio to comprise its own district, or be split into two districts.
“Because it was split up, I was against it,” Edwards said. “I think statewide they were very good maps, but unfortunately for our little area down here — it was split up a lot.”
Edwards said he would have preferred that Athens, Vinton, Morgan, Meigs and Washington counties be included in a single congressional district.
“I thought that would have given us a better representation," he said. "I don’t think the maps were terrible for our region, I just didn’t like it very much.”
State Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Asheville, who represents neighboring Hocking County, voted in favor of the maps, said he believed the maps were "compliant with the chapter and verse of the constitution with regards to splitting political subdivisions, keeping communities together, and coming up with maps that are as compact as possible.”
As for how the districts in the region were split, he said they were split into districts that "made sense," and noted his Ohio House district is also split up among three Congressional districts.
“And any time you're drawing political maps, someone's going to have some line they’d prefer to be in — one place rather than the other — but not everybody's going to get what they want,” Stewart said. “There's no way to draw lines that doesn't leave somebody on one side or the other.”
The House had approved a previous version of a GOP-drawn map in mid-September. That map was supplanted with a new one that was introduced on Monday and had only one hearing with public comment — all negative.
Ohio House Democrats have denounced the bill as an unconstitutional gerrymander. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project gave the new map an F for fairness and C's for competitiveness and geographic features. It predicts that only Columbus (District 3) and Cleveland (District 11) will reliably vote Democratic. Five districts are somewhat competitive, with voting shares split roughly equally between Democrats and Republicans; of those, only one leans Democratic. The remaining eight are solidly Republican. (District 12, which includes Athens County, favors Republicans two to one.)
As drawn, the map would yield a congressional delegation of eight to 12 (53% to 80%) Republicans and two or three Democrats. In the past 12 presidential elections, Ohio's voters have been fairly even split between the two parties; the widest split was in 1984, when 58.9% of Ohio's votes went to Ronald Reagan and 40.1% to Walter Mondale.
The map's sponsor, state Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, called it the "most competitive (map) offered by any caucus."
A map proposed by Ohio Democrats would have clustered most of Appalachian Ohio into two districts. Athens, Hocking, Vinton, Meigs and a bit of Washington counties would have been part of a district encompassing the southern Ohio counties; Perry, Morgan, and most of Washington counties would have been grouped with east/east central Ohio. That map yielded five solidly Democratic districts, six solidly Republican ones, and four toss-ups. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project graded that map A for fairness.