COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s legislative leaders are negotiating a potentially fast-moving constitutional amendment that would allow September deadlines for making state political maps to be extended because of pandemic-related delays in the 2020 Census, the state Senate leader said Tuesday.
Republican Senate President Matt Huffman told reporters that he has convened two meetings since last week with GOP House Speaker Bob Cupp, Senate Democratic Leader Kenny Yuko and House Democratic Leader Emilia Sykes to discuss the idea. A three-fifths majority of both chambers would need to agree to the proposal by next week in order to get it on the August special election ballot, he said.
Huffman said he will not pursue the effort without bipartisan support. The other leaders couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Of most pressing concern, Huffman said, is the timeline for drawing new Ohio General Assembly districts, a process that current constitutional language requires to be completed by Sept. 1 for a 10-year map under new, more bipartisan rules approved by Ohio voters. The Constitution gives until Sept. 15 to pass a four-year map whose lines would be controlled by the Legislature’s Republican majority.
“There’s no magic here,” he said. “Either we want to extend the dates or like to have a four-year map — or have the Supreme Court tell us something, which we don’t know what it is.”
The U.S. Census Bureau has said it anticipates detailed population data to arrive in the states around Aug. 16 — more than four months after the April 1 date on which it normally arrives.
For that reason, Huffman said he would like to see that deadline temporarily extended into October, or even November, on a one-time basis. He also supports reducing the one-year residency requirement for state legislative candidates to live within a district to nine months.
Current constitutional wording requires maps of Ohio’s congressional districts — which were reduced to 15 with the release of new Census data Monday — to be complete by Sept. 30. Huffman said that will still be a quick turnaround, but he is open to leaving that deadline alone if changing it is too controversial among national groups.
Under Huffman’s plan, voters would be asked to amend the Ohio Constitution to set up a mechanism for lawmakers to change the 2021 redistricting dates by concurrent resolution at some later date. A vote on those date adjustments would happen by concurrent resolution and could be scheduled once more is known about the arrival of Census data.
Fair Districts Ohio, a coalition of voter rights groups, has suggested moving the 2022 primary from May to June to give candidates additional time with the new maps, among other recommendations.