Redistricting in Ohio was supposed to be nonpartisan. How did it get so messed up?

Ohio’s seven-member Redistricting Commission first adopted new Statehouse maps in September, approving them in a 5-2, party-line vote. Progressive and voting rights groups have sued, and the state Supreme Court has now dismissed three sets of cards as unfairly favoring Republicans. The judges ordered the commission to draw a fourth set of maps by March 28, this time ordering the use of independent map-drawing experts.

The commissioners did so, also accepting the services of Federal Court mediators, and for the first time made the process public by broadcasting it on the Ohio Channel – but ultimately voted 4-3 to approve a slight revision of its previously discarded maps instead of the work of hired experts.

Republican commissioner Keith Faber, the state auditor, joined Democrats for the second time in opposing the Republican-drawn plan.

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Challengers to the first three sets of cards filed similar objections to the fourth set. As part of the filing, the plaintiffs are asking the court to reinstate a contempt hearing for commission members, on the grounds that the commissioners flouted the judges’ March 16 order to use an independent mapper.

The court gave the commission until Monday to explain why it should not be held in contempt.

How did we come here?

Ohio is required to redraw its U.S. House state and district legislative maps at least every 10 years, according to the results of the most recent U.S. Census.

A century ago, some state legislatures did not update district maps after the decennial census, Hannah said. This has helped rural areas retain power at the expense of growing cities, he said.

But in the 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court required states to redistribute their legislatures every 10 years, in accordance with the national census, creating districts roughly equal in population, Hannah said.

In 2015, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment creating a bipartisan commission to draw new legislative maps of the state, with the goal of reducing partisan gerrymandering. In 2018, voters approved another state constitutional amendment on how to draw new district maps for Ohio’s seats in the United States House of Representatives.

Detailed demographics from the 2020 census did not arrive until mid-August 2021, due to the effects of COVID-19 and an approved delay under the Trump administration.

The redistricting commission held a series of public meetings as the Sept. 15 deadline approached for state legislative maps, but at no time did the Republican map-makers give any indication that they took consideration of the many public comments and map proposals.

Instead, the commission — which is led 5-2 by Republicans — has passed state legislative maps drawn by Republican staff and consultants four times, without a vote from either member. of the Democratic committee.

That’s probably not what Ohioans expected when 70% of voters backed the constitutional amendments, Miller said. The months of wrangling are a sign that the redistricting process needs further overhaul, she said.

“The voter-approved process may have been a bipartisan process, but it’s still a political process in which partisan elected officials make the decisions,” Miller said.

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Primary issues

The card heist has led to growing controversy over how to handle the partisan primary election scheduled for May 3. Early voting, as well as the mailing of ballots to foreign and military voters, is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, April 5.

On March 23, Secretary of State Frank LaRose – who is also a member of the redistricting commission – sent a directive to the electoral councils of Ohio’s 88 counties, telling them to quit the State House and Senate races. in the May 3 election. He told a federal court that his preference would be for a single May 24 primary using the third set of cards, which has already been ruled unconstitutional. And LaRose told lawmakers last week that unless they moved the primary it would be split, citing the federal court’s refusal to intervene until at least April 20.

The Ohio Association of Election Officials has always maintained that if races are delayed, the entire primary should be postponed instead of voting on some races on May 3 and other races later.

Democrats have presented several proposals to move the entire primary to June or later, but Republicans have consistently rejected them. The last date the state could hold legislative primaries is August 2.

Splitting the primary in half would likely confuse voters and result in exceptionally low turnout for the state’s legislative races, Miller said.

Some statewide candidates have likely budgeted their campaigns to spend money by May 3, expecting party support to come into play for the general election, Hannah said. It’s “very curious” whether some of the U.S. Senate and Ohio gubernatorial campaigns can continue if the entire primary is pushed back.

“For our state legislative candidates, they probably have a good idea of ​​the key elements in their district, but they can’t campaign as effectively if they don’t know if certain areas will end up in their district,” Hannah said. “More broadly, Democrats should be able to run on this issue in the general election and remind voters of the public funds that have been wasted in this process.”

Congress Side Show

The redistricting commission is also mired in a dispute over a new map of the US House district. Ohio is set to lose one of its 16 U.S. House seats according to 2020 census results.

In November, lawmakers passed a new map of the US House, but voting rights and progressive groups filed a lawsuit. The Ohio Supreme Court rejected that map on Jan. 14 on the same grounds — unfairly favoring Republicans.

The judges told the General Assembly to try again. The General Assembly, however, took no action, returning the work to the redistricting commission.

On March 2, the committee approved another U.S. House map, again voting 5-2 with no Democratic support. That would create 10 safe Republican districts and three safe Democrats, with two draws narrowly favoring the Democrats.

The Supreme Court’s case calendar says the court won’t rule on Congress’s map until late May. Unless a federal court intervenes, the Congressional map adopted on March 2 will likely be used for the 2022 election.

“Since the Congressional Revised Maps have made only minor changes (compared to the first canceled version), the current Supreme Court is likely to re-rule those that are unconstitutional – this map may be amended again for 2024,” Miller said.

But Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor’s retirement on Jan. 1, 2023, could change the direction of that decision, Miller said.

The Congressional map likely to be used this time around favors Republican candidates more than the previous one, appearing to eliminate a Democratic seat, Miller said.

End of Game

A Republican group has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, demanding that judges order the state to use maps of the General Assembly District that the Ohio Supreme Court rejected on February 17. The federal court could order the use of these maps, the maps from the previous decade, the most recently approved, reschedule primary elections, or take no action.

On March 30, a three-judge U.S. District Court panel declined to intervene, but reserved the right to do so if the state does not settle the cards by April 20.

Political partisanship is more extreme now than at any time since the Civil War era, and the divide between rural and urban voters has never been greater, Hannah said. It makes the stakes higher, he said.

“And while the ballot initiatives passed by voters should have made it a more bipartisan process, the GOP developed a strategy to try to get the same partisan results by running overtime,” Hannah said.

But political preferences and geographic shifts could shift unpredictably over the next decade, meaning today’s political calculations might not always produce the desired result, he said.

“Because this has turned into a fiasco, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see efforts to pass a nonpartisan redistricting commission,” Hannah said. “And given the make-up of our Statehouse, this will likely only be passed through an initiative.”

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