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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Ohio voting rights groups challenge latest version of statehouse maps

Republican lawmakers’ fourth attempt at new legislative maps is only a slight departure from maps already struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) — Voting rights groups in Ohio filed objections Friday morning to the latest political maps for the Ohio House and Senate, claiming Republicans' proposed districts are still unconstitutional.

The new maps, the fourth attempt to draw districts that pass muster with the Ohio Supreme Court and meet the requirements of the Ohio Constitution, are nearly identical to maps recently struck down the court.

Prior to the newest plan's approval late Thursday night, the Ohio Redistricting Commission hired a pair of bipartisan consultants to create new district lines. They spent four days drawing the maps, with the process being livestreamed. But when the maps were nearly finished, state Senate President Matt Huffman, a Republican, introduced the new plan at the last moment, with most of the commission only seeing the maps minutes before being asked to approve them.

Just before the vote, the mapping consultants told the commission it only needed about 45 minutes to finish their new maps, with just the Ohio Senate version needing to be completed. Huffman said the last minute plan was a "parachute" allowing the commission to meet the midnight deadline set by the state's high court.

The new partisan breakdown of the maps was not shared, but they reportedly include only minor changes that didn't impact the imbalance in favor of Republicans that the Ohio Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in the third plan.

The latest objections filed by the the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Ohio and Covington & Burling LLP charge that the fourth iteration violates Section 6(A) of the Article XI of the Ohio Constitution by favoring Republican candidates in a "grossly disproportionate" manner.

“This partisan plan was the predictable result of a partisan process,” the filing states. “It was the result of the majority of the commission discarding the extensive efforts of independent map drawers retained by the commission. Instead of using the work of those independent map drawers, the commission adopted the invalidated third plan with the minor changes applied by Blake Springhetti, a staffer for House Speaker [Bob] Cupp who worked on the first three invalidated plans.”

Jen Miller, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said in a statement that the new redistricting plan "clearly violates the Ohio Constitution and is contemptuous of court orders."

"When Ohio voters approved redistricting reforms in 2015, the gave the Ohio Supreme Court authority to strike down unfair maps, and that's exactly what they must do," she said. "Ohioans deserve a state legislature that is responsive to their needs, but that will not happen unless the high court forces the redistricting commission to put an end to gerrymandering once and for all."

Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, decried the "audacity" of Republican commissioners who scrapped the independently drawn maps. "Like it or not, under our state’s law, politicians do not get to choose their voters," Levenson said.

The groups are urging the Ohio Supreme Court to invalidate the fourth redistricting plan and are asking for a quick decision, noting that a federal court has said it may impose a new map by April 20 if state lawmakers can't reach a solution on their own.

"This plan was drafted in secret, which defied the court’s order that map drawing be conducted in public," said Andrew Washington, president of the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute. "Fair elections require fair maps, and we ask the court to again step up for Ohio voters and force the commissioners to go back to the drawing board."

The Republicans' move to reject the independent maps seems to have been a legal maneuver in hopes that the parallel lawsuit filed in federal court by Republican activists would restore the third plan rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court on March 16. But a panel of three federal judges has so far refused to intervene, giving the state another month to resolve the problem.

The Ohio primary set for May 3 has been jeopardized due to the redistricting delays. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, said that a second primary election will have to be held for state legislative races due to the delays.

Categories / Government, Politics, Regional

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