by J.D. Davidson
Ohio’s May 3 primary elections are in jeopardy after the state Supreme Court struck down state legislative maps for the third time.
The court ruled 4-3 late Wednesday night the maps unfairly favor Republicans, saying the Ohio Redistricting Commission has attempted three sets of maps without input from Democrats on any, instead using GOP staffers to draft each map.
“The process leading to the adoption of the second revised plan was at least as one-sided as the process that we found problematic in League I and even more one-sided than the process addressed in League II,” the court wrote in its opinion. “Senate President (Matt) Huffman and House Speaker (Bob) Cupp did not allow the minority-party commission members to provide input on the second revised plan, much less let them participate in its creation. Nor does the record indicate that the other members of the commission – the statewide officeholders – engaged in any map drawing.”
The third set of maps were approved in late February, missing a court-ordered deadline by a week.
The court also suggested, but did not order, an independent map-drawer be engaged, but the commission holds the responsibility to draw and approve maps.
As ballots are being prepared for the May 3 primary, the court gave the commission a 9 a.m. March 29 deadline to produce its fourth attempt at state legislative districts.
Aside from claiming the process was not transparent, the court focused on toss-up districts and said they could not count to the proportionality it required in previous rulings.
It also ordered a more collaborative effort between Republicans and Democrats on the commission and for the commission to hold more frequent public hearings.
“The evidence shows that the map-drawing process for all three districting plans we have reviewed has been controlled by the Republican Party,” the opinion read. “The evidence shows that the individuals who controlled the map-drawing process exercised that control with the overriding intent to maintain as much of an advantage as possible for members of their political party.”
John Fortney, director of communications for Senate Republicans, said Huffman is reviewing the opinion and will determine the path forward.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose has not said how the ruling might affect the primaries.
LaRose asked the General Assembly in February to move the primary date, but lawmakers approved a plan last week signed by Gov. Mike DeWine to change the timing for military overseas ballots to keep the primary on track for May 3.
The commission’s first maps favored the GOP by 62% in the House and nearly 70% in the Senate. The second set of maps showed 58.3% Republican-leaning legislative districts, above the court-ordered 54%.
Both also were ruled unconstitutional.
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J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist at The Center Square with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher.
Photo “Ohio State House” by Ɱ. CC BY-SA 4.0.