COLUMBUS — Two Democrats seeking statewide offices in Ohio released a proposal Friday that they say would guarantee the state’s process for drawing congressional district maps is transparent to the public.
Former U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach, a candidate for attorney general, and state Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a candidate for secretary of state, told The Associated Press their plan adds accountability and openness requirements to the new, bipartisan redistricting process contained in a May ballot issue.
"We are adding meat to that proposal and showing our commitment from the get-go to accountability and transparency every step of the way through this process," Clyde said.
The pair has titled their package "Keep It Open, Keep It Honest," which is intended as a contrast to the "Keep It Secret, Keep It Safe" philosophy with which majority Republicans approached redistricting last time around in 2011. New maps are crafted every 10 years based on updated census figures.
An analysis released at the time by the nonpartisan Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting, a project of the League of Women Voters of Ohio and Ohio Citizen Action, uncovered a pattern of deliberate secrecy by GOP mapmakers, who took a "keep it secret, keep it safe" training.
The report found secret meetings were held in a hotel room near the Ohio Statehouse in downtown Columbus with highly controlled access. It showed, through public documents, that proposed maps were held "in the can" to be released at a strategic time and that officials with sway in the process were briefed individually to avoid violating Ohio open meetings laws.
To prevent such secrecy when Ohio draws its next map from 2020 census data, Dettelbach and Clyde’s plan would:
— Require regular public reports and the release of draft maps under negotiation in real time
— Mandate regular public briefings and allow for ongoing public input
— Require public redistricting meetings with sufficient notice, and prohibit any secretive meeting process
— Require that those involved, including private consultants, preserve all redistricting records and related communications
— Allow the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to quickly bring suspected violations before a court of law for judicial review
Dettelbach, who faces Republican Auditor Dave Yost for attorney general, said bringing high stakes map-making into the open — through requirements such as frequent reporting and making records public and meetings open — reduces the "tremendous temptation on the part of politicians to gerrymander."
"In my experience, when people know that they’re going to be held accountable, either right away or later, for their decisions by the public at large, they will be more likely to do the right thing," he said.
Clyde, of Kent, faces Republican Akron-area state Sen. Frank LaRose, in the race to succeed Husted. She said she plans to turn the plan into draft legislation within the next few weeks.