State redistricting plans unconstitutional
- Published: January 29, 2022
Ohio Democrats and state chapters of the NAACP, ACLU and League of Women Voters, among other groups and voting rights advocates, are hailing a pair of rulings by the Ohio Supreme Court last week that found the state’s recent redistricting efforts to be unconstitutional.
In a 4–3 decision Wednesday, Jan. 12, the Court threw out maps approved in September by the Ohio Redistricting Commission for the state General Assembly’s 99 House and 33 Senate districts, ruling that they unduly favored the Republican party. Justices gave the Commission 10 days to redraw boundaries that complied with a state constitutional amendment that was approved by Ohio voters in 2015 to address partisan gerrymandering.
Then on Friday, Jan. 14, the Court, in another 4–3 vote, ruled that the state’s November-approved maps denoting its 15 U.S. congressional districts — reduced in number from 16 by 2020 Census results — constituted “political gerrymandering” as well, as defined in a second, related constitutional amendment approved in 2018.
The Court’s majority opinion specifically pointed to unacceptable splits in predominantly Democrat-leaning Hamilton, Cuyahoga and Summit counties, and the judges ordered the Ohio General Assembly to come up with a new plan within the next 30 days.
U.S. Congressional District 10, of which Greene County is a part, also includes the eastern part of Montgomery County to the west and all of Fayette County to the east, and is currently represented by Mike Turner (R-Dayton). The new map brought the district’s eastern border to Fayette County’s mid-point and extended the northern border about midway into Clark County.
The new boundary also saw District 15, represented by Republican Mike Carey, engulfing District 10 with sections to the north, east and south.
“We are excited, ecstatic over the decisions of the Ohio Supreme Court,” Ohio NAACP president and former state legislative member Tom Roberts said in a phone call this week. “The Court listened to the wishes of the people and instructed the Ohio Redistricting Commission to draw fair maps.”
Gerrymandering means that the voices and needs of certain constituents go unheard, Roberts said. “Gerrymandering is the worst form of democracy.”
Responding to the Court’s ruling
With the most pressing deadline concerning the state’s legislative districts, the seven-member Redistricting Commission reconvened Tuesday, Jan. 18, in a meeting that was livestreamed on the state’s website.
“We’re well aware of the time constraints, which makes this process difficult, but not impossible, and so we will all be working diligently … to implement and conform to the decision of the Court as we understand it,” Co-chair and House Speaker Bob Cupps, a Republican, said.
Because the 10-day time frame concludes Saturday, Jan. 22, Commission members said they anticipate having until Monday, Jan. 24, to comply with the Court’s directive.
Established by the 2015 constitutional amendment, Commission membership is made up by the governor, the secretary of state, the state auditor and representatives appointed by the House speaker, the House minority leader, the Senate president and the Senate minority leader. Given Republican domination of state politics, the current Commission makeup is five Republicans and two Democrats.
Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, opened Tuesday’s meeting by stating his understanding of the main points in the Supreme Court’s ruling, specifically that the Constitution’s “proportionality standard” had not been met. That standard seeks to shape districts based on a 54%–46% party division of the statewide vote in recent elections.
Failure to complete the revisions in the allotted time will have serious repercussions on the legality of the spring election, according to Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who is also a Republican.
Feb. 2 is the filing deadline for candidates interested in running for office in the General Assembly in the May 3 primary. Other administrative-related deadlines loom even sooner. District boundaries need to be in place for election boards to do their work.
LaRose, who said he is requesting some deadline flexibility from the General Assembly, urged his fellow commissioners to act quickly.
“Ohioans deserve an accurate and accessible primary election,” LaRose said. “And as this process continues, we are starting to come perilously close to reaching the point where that may become logistically impossible.”
Essentially convening to reorganize on Tuesday, the Commission announced Wednesday that it would meet again Thursday, Jan. 20, beginning at 2 p.m. Members in addition to DeWine, LaRose and Cupps are State Auditor Keith Faber and Senate President Matt Huffman, all Republicans, and House Minority Leader Allison Russo and Commission Co-chair Sen. Vernon Sykes, both Democrats.
The public can comment on the Commission’s work through its website, http://www.redistrictiong.ohio.gov. Meetings are livestreamed on OhioChannel.org.