New challenges to state House, Senate maps

Credit: Laura A. Bischoff

Credit: Laura A. Bischoff

Lawmakers also approve to ease candidate requirements ahead of Feb. 2 deadline to get on the ballot.

Redone Ohio House and Senate district maps, approved Saturday by the Ohio Redistricting Commission, face a new legal challenge.

The progressive and voting-rights groups that successfully sued to overturn the maps passed in September have filed objections to the new maps as well.

“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 a news release.

The court said in its Jan. 12 decision that the maps approved in September unfairly favored Republicans. Justices gave mapmakers 10 days to draw new ones, ruling 4-3 that the overall partisan lean of districts should resemble the 54% Republican-46% Democratic way Ohioans have voted in recent statewide elections, to the extent that is possible while meeting all other constitutional requirements.

ExploreBig changes: New state House, Senate maps rearrange Montgomery, Butler counties

On the last allowable day, the redistricting commission voted 5-2 to adopt a Republican-authored plan — the same vote as in September to adopt a previous Republican plan. Both times maps passed without support from the commission’s two Democratic members, meaning they would have to be redrawn in four years.

Republicans on the commission said they were unable to draw maps that entirely met the proportionality standard while also abiding by other constitutional requirements.

In response to the new legal challenges, John Fortney, communications director for the Ohio Senate Majority Caucus, referred to the statement issued Saturday immediately after the maps’ approval. That said the maps address the court’s objections and are a product of commission members and staff working together.

It asserts the maps are constitutional, and that Democrats could not produce the same.

On Wednesday the General Assembly rushed a bill through to address some of the problems caused by continued litigation. As amendments to an unrelated bill, legislators changed the filing deadline for U.S. House seats from Feb. 2 to March 4.

The filing deadline for Ohio House and Senate seats will remain unchanged, but further amendments eased candidate requirements on gathering the required 50 signatures to run and will let candidates amend their applications if they need to move to run under new district lines.

The bill passed the Senate 33-0 on Wednesday afternoon. Minutes after that the House, which passed the original bill in February 2021, concurred with the Senate amendments by a 74-19 vote.

If the court upholds the new maps, Republicans would have the advantage in 57 of the state’s 99 House districts and 20 of the 33 Senate districts.

That’s five fewer Republican House and three fewer Republican Senate seats than in the overturned maps. But 12 of the proposed Democratic-leaning House and four of the Senate districts only favor Democrats by razor-thin margins, while none of the Republican-leaning seats are as close, according to a summary of the plan.

“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 the announcement. “We ask the Ohio Supreme Court to strike down these gerrymandered maps, because Ohio voters deserve better.”

Currently Republicans hold 65 House seats and 25 Senate seats.

The ACLU filing was on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the A. Philip Randolph Institute and several individuals. The National Redistricting Action Fund also filed objections on behalf of several Ohio voters, arguing they had submitted map proposals to the redistricting commission that met all constitutional requirements, proving it could be done.

ExploreRedistricting commission adopts Republican plan

The court gave plaintiffs three days after the map-drawing deadline to file objections. Now the court has a week to rule on the maps before the Feb. 2 filing deadline for the state legislative primary election.

On Wednesday, the court ordered the redistricting commission to file its response to the new objections by noon Friday, Jan. 28.

During debate on the new maps, commission member Frank LaRose, Ohio secretary of state, asked for the authority to adjust administrative deadlines for county boards of election in the run-up to the vote. That has not been granted as of yet.

Democrats filed a bill Monday to delay the primary from May 3 to June 7. Under that bill, any candidacy filed for the May primary would still be valid in June.

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