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GOP voters sue Ohio redistricting panel to force adoption of legislative maps

A group of Ohioans are taking Secretary of State Frank LaRose and the state's redistricting commission to court in an effort to put new legislative maps in place before primary elections in May.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) — Unfazed by rulings from the Ohio Supreme Court, a group of Republican voters on Friday sued in federal court seeking to force the adoption of state House and Senate maps that have already been rejected as unconstitutional gerrymandering.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of an unproductive meeting of the Ohio Redistricting Commission on Thursday, during which maps drawn by Democrats were rejected and Republicans failed to propose any new configurations.

Republicans have refused to propose any new legislative maps after a second rejection by the state's high court last week, and say the commission is at an impasse and cannot fulfill its duties.

The high court has yet to issue a ruling or statement to spur the commission to action, and the voters who sued the panel say the "uncertainty has deprived [them] the opportunity to run for office, educate themselves about candidates, support candidates, and associate with like-minded voters."

Ohio has been unable to adopt a legislative map based on 2020 census data as a result of constitutional constraints placed on the map by a voter-passed amendment that created the bipartisan commission in 2015.

The commission adopted a map in September 2021 that gave Republicans 67% and 69% of state House and Senate seats, respectively, even though polling information showed that just 55% of voters statewide leaned Republican.

The League of Women Voters and other voting rights groups sued, and eventually argued before the Ohio Supreme Court in December 2021 to invalidate the map.

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor was the deciding vote in a decision that not only found the map was an unconstitutional gerrymander, but also ordered a new map to be drawn within 10 days.

The second map was also rejected by O'Connor and the high court, which led to the commission's current impasse and the lawsuit filed by Republican voters.

Independent candidates for state offices must declare their intent to run by Feb. 22, and the voters claim this deadline will almost certainly come and go with no resolution.

"Without legislative districts," the complaint states, "plaintiffs cannot decide which candidates to support, cannot decide to run for elected office or to encourage other candidates to run, cannot educate themselves or others on the positions of candidates in their districts and prepare to hold those candidates responsible, and cannot associate with others in their district."

According to the voters, the current districts – based on population data from 2010 – are skewed because of population growth or decline that can only be resolved through the creation of a map based on 2020 census data.

"As a result, if elections are allowed to take place before the legal sufficiency of districts are resolved, votes in overpopulated districts, such as plaintiffs, will suffer from vote dilution," they claim. "This means a deprivation of political power and resources."

The lawsuit requests a three-judge panel to adjudicate the claims, and seeks an injunction to prevent any elections under the current legislative map.

It also requests the panel provide a plan to implement the second set of maps adopted by the commission, even though they were already rejected by the supreme court.

Attorney Donald Brey of Isaac Wiles & Burkholder filed the complaint on behalf of the voters, including Ohio Right to Life President Michael Gonidakis and former Republican state lawmaker Margy Conditt.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Ohio took action on Friday as well, filing a motion with the Ohio Supreme Court to require the Ohio Redistricting Commission to explain its failure to comply with the high court’s order to adopt a new legislative map.

“The majority commissioners delayed until the last minute, and then brazenly refused to comply with the Ohio Supreme Court’s order to produce a new plan. We are calling for the court to require them to answer for their defiance,” said Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, in a statement.

Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, reiterated her organization’s commitment to hold the commission accountable and ensure a constitutional electoral map.

“Our goal is quite simple,” Miller said in a statement. “Ensuring that the people of Ohio have Senate and House districts that serve them, not the short-sighted interests of political operatives. The good news is that such maps already exist – the mapmakers just need to find the political courage to put voters first and adopt them.”

The press release from the ACLU asked the state’s high court to respond to its request no later than 9 a.m. on Feb. 25.

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