(The Center Square) – What the first of meeting of Ohio’s new redistricting commission lacked in substance Friday, it made up for in history.
The first-ever meeting of the commission lasted only a few minutes; enough time for members to take the oath of office and for co-chairs House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, and Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, to make short statements.
The history came in the meeting itself after Ohio voters established the Ohio Redistricting Commission in 2018 to redraw congressional and legislative district maps. The commission consists of Gov. Mike DeWine, State Auditor Keith Faber, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, along with appointments from both House and Senate Republicans and Democrats.
Senate representatives include President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, and Sykes. Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, and Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, represent the House.
The appointments drew praise from the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, which called the appointment of two Black lawmakers – Vernon Sykes and Emilia Sykes – historic.
“Every critical issue in our state comes down to fair districts, from education and the economy to growing good paying jobs and protecting health care access. It’s important we get this right, and I have the utmost confidence in our incredible Democratic Commission members who have the knowledge, experience and dedication to ensure we draw fair maps that represent the true diversity of our state,” said Rep. Thomas West, D-Canton, who also is OLBC president.
The commission plans nine public meetings around the state, despite a tight constitutional deadline after delays in receiving critical data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Cupp said.
The state is expected to receive census information on race, Hispanic origin, voting age and housing occupancy down to neighborhood levels by Aug. 16 after Attorney General Dave Yost sued the U.S. Census Bureau and reached a settlement.
Federal law requires census information to be given to each state by March 31, but the U.S. Census Bureau announced in February the information would not be available until Sept. 30 because of COVID-19-related delays.
Ohio law requires a Sept. 30 deadline for drawing lines and a first vote on state maps 29 days after the U.S. Census Bureau releases redistricting information. The bureau’s original timeline to release the information would have forced the law to be broken by Ohio officials.
Yost sued, and the federal government agreed in late May to give Ohio key census information more than a month earlier than planned, allowing the state a better opportunity to meet its constitutional requirements for redistricting.