CINCINNATI (CN) — A former Marine with experience as Ohio's treasurer and a best-selling author funded by a billionaire venture capitalist have grabbed most of the headlines in the lead-up to the Buckeye State's May primary election, but the continued legal battle over the state's electoral maps has forced a delay for state legislative races.
The 2022 primary was originally cast as an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to set up for a battle for the seat of retiring U.S. Senator Rob Portman, who announced in January 2021 that he would not seek reelection for a third term, and to nominate party candidates for statehouse contests.
The Ohio Redistricting Commission had other ideas, however, as the 2020 census required a redrawing of the state's electoral maps that has taken longer than anyone anticipated, spawned numerous legal battles and required the Ohio Supreme Court to weigh in on the constitutionality of several proposed – and ultimately rejected – legislative maps.
A supposedly bipartisan venture, the commission has struggled to come up with a map that both Democrats and Republicans can agree on, while Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor has ultimately been the deciding vote in the high court's rejection of several maps.
O'Connor and several other justices ruled the maps proposed by the commission gave Republicans an unfair and unconstitutional advantage, and no suitable alternatives have been drawn as the May 3 election date creeps ever closer.
A decision from the high court on Thursday that rejected another proposed map guaranteed that state legislative races will not be on the ballot for the May primary.
A split ballot divided into two election days allows Ohioans to cast votes for the U.S. Senate race on the originally scheduled date, but the plan brings about its own problems.
David Niven, associate professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, said two primaries could drive down turnout.
"The bigger effect of splitting the primary is how few people are likely to show up and vote with just the state legislature on the ballot," Niven said in an interview.
According to the commission, the latest possible date for the state legislature primary is Aug. 2.
Regardless of which maps are eventually approved by the state's high court, Niven said it won't have a major impact on the Senate and gubernatorial elections.
"The maps were really drawn to almost guarantee [Republicans] a supermajority," he said. "If it ultimately produces a fair map, it doesn't mean Republicans won't win – it's still a Republican state – but it means they don't start out having won the election before the votes are cast."
Case Western Reserve University associate professor of political science Justin Buchler agreed with Niven regarding turnout, but also emphasized the confusion that could be caused by the redistricting process.
"The bigger problem is it creates issues for candidates who do not know the boundaries of their districts," he told Courthouse News, "and voters in indeterminate regions are likely to face confusion about who their candidates, and in some cases, incumbents are."
Arguably the most important race in the 2022 primary is the battle for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, which includes author J.D. Vance, former state treasurer Josh Mandel, former Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Timken and businessman Mike Gibbons.
While Timken has a wealth of experience as a party operative, Vance and Mandel have garnered the most attention, at least in part because of their brash behavior and willingness to provide critics with provocative quotes.
Mandel, a former Marine running on the tagline "Pro God, pro gun, pro Trump," has yet to receive an endorsement from the former president, but has clearly molded his political style on Trump's brazen and sometimes arrogant character.