Redistricting Update | Groups renew legal challenges
- Published: February 12, 2022
In a 5–2 vote that followed party lines, the Republican-dominated Ohio Redistricting Commission ostensibly met the 10-day deadline set in a Jan. 12 Ohio Supreme Court decision directing the Commission to go back to the drawing board to produce new district maps for the state’s General Assembly.
The Court had ruled that maps originally approved by the Commission in September unfairly favored Republican office seekers. Specifically, the Court pronounced that the maps did not meet the Constitution’s “proportionality standard,” which seeks to shape districts based on a 54%-46% party division based on votes in recent statewide elections. The matter had been brought to the Court by an affiliation of progressive and voting rights organizations.
Those groups, including state chapters of the ACLU, NAACP and League of Women Voters, are again decrying the Commission’s latest effort, saying in a suit filed last week that the new maps approved by the Commission on Saturday evening, Jan. 22, continue to disregard the state’s Constitution and do not comply with the Supreme Court’s order.
“To our dismay, the Ohio Redistricting Commission once again baked extreme partisan bias into the Ohio Senate and House districts,” Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said in a news release from the ACLU about the new legal challenge. “We ask the Ohio Supreme Court to strike down these gerrymandered maps, because Ohio voters deserve better,” she concluded.
“The Ohio Redistricting Commission was given a second opportunity to do the right thing: to produce fair and compliant maps; however, the majority-members once again defied the Ohio Constitution and the Ohio Supreme Court, and put politics over people,” Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, said in the same release.
If the Court upholds the new maps, Republican candidates would have the advantage in 57 of the state’s 99 House districts and 20 of its 33 Senate districts, according to the Dayton Daily News. A DDN analysis concluded that while the new plan proposes five fewer Republican-leaning House and three fewer Republic-leaning Senate districts, 12 of the outlined Democratic-leaning House and four of the Democrat-leaning Senate districts favor Democrats by only a thin margin, when none of the Republican-leaning districts has such a close margin.
According to the progressive grassroots Ohio Organizing Collaborative, the first redistricting try included five districts that leaned in favor of one party by less than a 52%–48% margin, while “[t]he new map has 14 such districts, all counted by the Commission as ‘Democrat leaning.’”
Republican leaders have said that the Democrats were unable to devise a better plan.
Proposed changes in Greene County, according to DDN, include Ohio House districts 73, 74 and 79.
District 73, which currently includes Yellow Springs, is represented by Brian Lampton, a Republican. It would be renumbered as District 70, lose Yellow Springs and add some land in the southeast of the county.
District 74, represented by Republican Bill Dean, would become District 71, adding Yellow Springs, along with a central portion of the county, while losing an area currently located in Clark County north of Springfield.
District 79, which is represented by Republican Kyle Koehler and extends into Clark County, would lose some land southeast of Springfield while gaining some to the northeast.
The Redistricting Commission
Established by a state Constitutional amendment approved by Ohio voters in 2015 to address the issue of gerrymandering, the Commission’s membership is made up of 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.
If the Commission approves new district maps with the support of both parties, those maps are to remain in place for 10 years. If they pass without support of one of the parties, they stand for four years — unless overturned again by the Court.
A statement issued by the Commission after approving the newest maps said the group had done its best to respond to the Court’s ruling.
The ongoing litigation is pressing up against deadlines for the state’s spring primary. The deadline for candidates to file petitions to run for the General Assembly as well as the U.S. House was originally Feb. 2. Earlier this week, Ohio legislators changed the U.S. House deadline to March 4 while keeping the Feb. 2 deadline in place for General Assembly races, but allowing candidates to amend their applications if their district lines change.
In addition, Democrats have proposed a bill to delay the primary from May 3 to June 7.
In response to the latest suit, the Commission has asked the state supreme court to offer a ruling by Feb. 11, so county boards of election have time to prepare for the primary, or wait to make a decision until after the November general election, claiming that there is precedent for allowing maps to stand while facing a court challenge.