CINCINNATI (CN) – Backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, 16 Democratic voters sued Governor John Kasich and other Republican lawmakers on Wednesday, claiming the GOP manipulated the congressional map to such a degree that it no longer reflects the political will of Ohioans.
ACLU attorneys led by Freda Levenson filed the lawsuit in Cincinnati federal court, asking a judge to permanently enjoin Ohio GOP officials from using a 2011 redistricting statute, HB 369, to redraw maps, arguing the practice violates voters’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Coordinated by the national Republican Party as part of an effort to lock in Republican seats after the 2010 census, and as it made huge gains in the 2010 midterm elections, GOP officials in Ohio rented a room at the DoubleTree in Columbus to gerrymander the congressional map behind closed doors, according to the lawsuit.
The hotel room went by the codename “the bunker” and the officials tasked with redrawing the maps allegedly used their personal email accounts to communicate with each other.
Attorney Alora Lundborg of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project said the maps gave an unfair advantage to Republican politicians. But at the same time, she noted that the redrawing of political maps to favor one political party over another was wrong whether it is Democrats or Republicans doing the drawing.
“Politicians have shamelessly and repeatedly ﬂouted the will of voters with their partisan manipulation of the election process,” Lundborg said in a prepared statement. “Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted responded to the lawsuit by asking why it had taken the ACLU six years to file suit.
“These groups should respect the will of Ohio’s voters who overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment earlier this month that established a new, bipartisan process for drawing congressional districts starting in 2021,” Husted said in a statement.
The ACLU’s lawsuit says that the map was redrawn to give conservatives a 12-to-4 Republican to Democrat ratio in the state’s congressional delegation and to keep things that way for a decade.
It worked because despite only winning 50 to 60 percent of the vote, Ohio Republicans clung on to three-fourths of congressional seats, according to the complaint.
“Rather than reflecting voters’ dynamic or evolving preferences, elections under gerrymandered systems systematically lock in candidates from the legislators’ preferred party and discourage electoral competition. In Ohio’s case, this ensures that Republicans vastly outnumber Democrats in Ohio’s congressional delegation,” the lawsuit states.
The legal filing comes after voters in the state passed an anti-gerrymandering measure in this month’s primary elections. Ohioans gave their backing to Issue 1, a statewide ballot measure that has received bipartisan support.
In Pennsylvania, officials drew a new map after the state’s Supreme Court concluded the old map that heavily favored Republicans was unconstitutional. Democrats immediately reaped the benefits of the redrawn map during last week’s primaries and could pick up as many as four seats in this year’s general election.
In addition to Husted, the ACLU of Ohio names Governor Kasich, Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof and House Speaker Pro Tempore Kirk Schuring as defendants. Their respective offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The League of Women Voters of Ohio and the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute joined the 16 Democratic voters as plaintiffs.