Ohio GOP wins favorable state ballot cards, flouting reform attempts

Ohio Republicans won favorable legislative redistricting maps for this year’s election on Friday after the state’s top court effectively raised its hands in an attempt to enforce new redistricting rules.

The GOP victory came via a Federal Court ruling by judges who said they felt compelled to approve a map to ensure Ohio could run its election, even if that map was the one that the state Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional.

“Between the impasse between state officials and the delay in getting the case, our options were limited. We therefore chose the best of our bad options,” the federal court wrote in an order that moved the legislative primary to August 2. originally scheduled for May 3.

The court’s decision was a blow to the state’s efforts to reform its redistricting process.

New rules imposed by a state constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2015 aimed to curb gerrymandering and require lawmakers from both parties to work together when drawing legislative districts.

While this year’s pro-GOP map will be redrawn ahead of the 2024 election, Republicans’ near-term victory nevertheless exposed the flaws in a bipartisan redistricting process that supporters have fought for years to reform.

“The people of Ohio thought they were clearly cementing rules into the Ohio Constitution and that the Ohio Redistricting Commission would follow those rules, create transparent bipartisan maps, so we could participate in elections fair and meaningful. And that didn’t happen,” said Catherine Turcer, a decades-long redistricting reform activist and executive director of the good governance group Common Cause Ohio.

The map expected to be used this year gives Republicans at least 54% of the seats in the state Legislature. He was twice declared invalid by the state Supreme Court.

Republicans were able to bolster their version in part by refusing to vote for maps proposed by Democrats or independent mapmakers.

The Ohio Supreme Court has spent months invalidating maps advanced by the GOP-led state redistricting commission and pressuring panel members to draw fair maps. But in the end, the High Court did not have the power to implement maps itself, as the Federal Court did.

In rulings earlier this week, the state court acknowledged it effectively had no options to force change in this year’s process, with Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor suggesting voters should consider further reform.

“Having witnessed how constitutional reforms can be frustrated by hyper-partisanship and the power of inertia, the people of Ohio have the power to change these dynamics. This opportunity should not be wasted.” , she wrote in a concurring opinion.

Legal challenges against the Ohio Redistricting Commission are ongoing, and the panel is under a court order to draw new maps — for use in 2024 and beyond — by June 3. But it’s unclear whether the commission can be forced to do things differently next time around.

“There is no clear safety net, other than I guess litigation attrition and the fact that commissioners will be called back and forced to keep trying again and again until they succeed,” said Yurij Rudensky, an attorney at the Brennan Center. for Justice who is representing Ohio voters in a lawsuit against the commission.

At the panel’s last meeting, Republican members defended the use of the GOP preference that will be used this year, saying it was the only card election officials could implement given the lack of time. Democrats countered that it was a problem created by Republicans, citing their refusal to meet for weeks.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, said the card was “the only viable option, the only viable option for effectively administering an August 2 primary election.”

Friday’s court order takes effect at midnight Saturday, giving the commission less than 36 hours to find a compromise. It is not planned to do so.

Ohio is one of several states that have created new redistricting commissions for 2022. Michigan, Colorado, New York, Virginia and Ohio have all created new entities to draw political maps, joining States like California and Arizona that have been using commissions for decades.

Some states, such as Michigan and Colorado, have adopted independent commissions with citizens as members; others like Ohio and Virginia have lawmakers on their panels.

What’s critical in either approach, Rudensky said, is what action is taken when a commission isn’t doing its job well.

“The best way to deter abuse is to create a feeling among map designers that unless they approach the task in good faith, unless they uphold the standards to which they are bound, that someone ‘someone else will take over the process,’ he said. said. “It’s an incredibly powerful thing.”

In Ohio, the state constitution gives the state Supreme Court jurisdiction over the commission, but the court can only approve or invalidate a map passed by the commission. They cannot implement or draw a map of their own choosing, which other state courts in Virginia and New York have done when commissions failed to produce maps for certain races.

Still, Rudensky argued the result in Ohio was at least a step in the right direction.

“It’s not the process the voters intended, it’s not the way the redistricting should have happened,” he told NBC News. “It’s still an improvement.”

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