Judges reject legislative maps, primaries in doubt

The Ohio Supreme Court overturned the third round of state House and Senate cards late Wednesday, ending any hopes of a May 3 primary with legislative and statewide races. ‘State.

The decision marks the third time the Ohio Supreme Court has rejected legislative maps drawn by the Ohio Redistricting Commission. Once again Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, was the deciding vote in a 4-3 decision.

The Ohio Supreme Court ordered the Ohio Redistricting Commission to draw a new set of state House and Senate maps by March 28.

In its ruling, the majority of the court pointed to a faulty process that led to a faulty product. He also made a suggestion for the next round of mapping: write maps in public, call frequent meetings, and use another mapmaker.

Redistricting is ‘self-created chaos’ by Republican leaders, court majority rules

“The commission should retain an independent map designer — who answers to all commission members, not just Republican legislative leaders — to draft a plan through a transparent process,” the court wrote in its decision, who did not name a specific author.

The commission needs something else, according to the majority of the court: political will.

“Resolving this self-created chaos therefore does not depend on the number of hands on the computer mouse but rather on the political will to honor the call of the people to end partisan gerrymandering,” according to the court ruling.

In their dissent, two justices vehemently disagreed: “Today’s majority decree is an exercise in raw political power. Nothing less. Nothing more.”

By invalidating the maps, the court effectively ends any chance that Ohio will hold a primary for all statewide, legislative, congressional and local races on May 3. military and overseas as of Friday.

Now, Ohio lawmakers will be tasked with dividing or delaying the primary election — a costly move Republicans who control the Legislature had hoped to avoid.

Redistricting of Ohio: the maps favor the Republicans

The discarded cards could have given the GOP a 54-45 advantage in the Ohio House and an 18-15 advantage in the Senate. These numbers matched the voting preferences of Ohioans statewide, which averaged 54% for Republican candidates statewide and 46% for Democratic candidates statewide. course of the last decade.

But Democrats and suffrage activists argued that Republicans had drawn up maps that looked proportional but were actually anything but. The cards passed without Democratic support, meaning they could only last four years.

Stanford University professor Jonathan Rodden, who analyzed the maps of the groups suing them, wrote that the GOP had created “a very strict cap” on the number of districts Democrats could win – even in a year. strong democrat.

Republicans argued that Democrats and card chasers moved the goalposts. At first, plaintiffs complained about the number of Democratic districts falling below 51%. When mappers solved that problem, Democrats challenged districts that fell below 52 percent.

In the end, the court sided with opponents of those Statehouse maps, sending the Ohio Redistricting Commission back to the drawing board for the fourth time.

“Let’s be clear, the presence of toss-up neighborhoods in the plan is not alone the basis of our determination,” according to the ruling. But taken as a whole, the cards favored the Republican Party over the Democratic Party. “The remarkably one-sided distribution of toss-up districts is evidence of an intentionally skewed map, and it leads to partisan asymmetry.”

Redistricting turned out to be a messy process

The mapping process was, once again, a problem. These cards were late, approved after a court-imposed deadline. The Ohio Supreme Court scheduled — then later postponed — a hearing to determine whether seven members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission should be held in contempt of court for missing a court-set deadline to approve new cards.

Senate Speaker Matt Huffman and House Speaker Bob Cupp, both Republicans from Lima, had disproportionate control of the mapping process, the court said, adding that “their almost exclusive control over the first two rounds design of the map was strong evidence of partisan intent”.

The court noted that the Democrats on the commission did not receive a copy of the cards until the day they were asked to vote on them.

The Ohio Supreme Court has already rejected two versions of the State House and Senate maps. The court took issue with both the way the maps were drawn – behind closed doors with little or no public participation – and their partisan results.

The wording of the Ohio Constitution, approved by voters in 2015, prohibits the Ohio Supreme Court from drawing maps of the State House and Senate.

What Happens to Ohio’s May Primary?

Ohio lawmakers could move the entire primary to May 3. Republicans were unwilling to do so last week when the court had yet to make a decision on the Statehouse or Congressional cards.

Huffman floated the idea of ​​holding two primaries, one for statewide candidates and local candidates and issues on May 3 and another for legislative, congressional and other candidates who require districts later. This could cost taxpayers between $20 million and $25 million more.

If lawmakers want to keep the primary on a date, Huffman said it could take place in July at the earliest. A spokesperson for the Ohio Senate said lawmakers are reviewing the decision to determine a way forward.

Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-North Avondale, has proposed moving the primary to June 28. “It’s a win, a win all the way,” he said on Monday.

A federal lawsuit is also underway that could force the Ohio Supreme Court to adopt the House of States and Senate maps it just rejected.

What do the dissenting judges say?

Once again, the redistricting decision revealed a severe division on the seven-member tribunal.

In a dissenting opinion, Justices Pat DeWine and Sharon Kennedy accuse the majority of ordering “election chaos” and bringing Ohio “to the brink of a constitutional crisis.”

Judge Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat and former Secretary of State, responded that the court is not an automatic buffer and does not create a crisis by applying the requirements of the Ohio Constitution.

Brunner and Kennedy are running for chief justice in this year’s election to replace O’Connor who cannot run again due to judicial age limits.

DeWine and Kennedy said the majority – Brunner, Michael Donnelly, O’Connor and Melody Stewart – trump the voter’s will with their own political preferences. “Doing so threatens the very legitimacy of this tribunal.”

They argue that the majority of the four judges moved the goal posts for what was expected of the mappers, changing the measurements.

Both Republicans are also critical of the majority’s suggestion that the seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission work together to draft maps in public.

“Do members vote each time the mouse is rolled over? Resolving conflicts through games of rock, paper, scissors? Or is it more of a scrum, with the strongest winning? they wrote.

DeWine and Kennedy wrote, “Regardless of the plain language of the Ohio Constitution or any basic notion of judicial restraint, the majority has injected unnecessary uncertainty and confusion into the 2022 election cycle.”

Judge Patrick Fischer, a Republican, partly agreed with DeWine and Kennedy and wrote a separate dissent that the court had no authority to review maps that would only be in place for four years.

This story will be updated.

Read the decision here:

Journalist Anna Staver contributed to this article.

Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Akron Beacon Journal, Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch and 18 other affiliate news organizations in Ohio.

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