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Fight over Ohio’s legislative maps goes right back to Supreme Court

Voting rights groups including the ACLU of Ohio and American Civil Liberties Union say the...
Voting rights groups including the ACLU of Ohio and American Civil Liberties Union say the latest set of state House and Senate maps still violate Ohio’s Constitution and want the Ohio Supreme Court to intervene again.(WTVG / Dave's Redistricting)
Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 9:30 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 26, 2022 at 11:52 AM EST
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WXIX) - The fight over Ohio’s legislative maps just went right back to the state’s top court.

Voting rights groups including the ACLU of Ohio and American Civil Liberties Union say the latest set of state House and Senate maps still violate Ohio’s Constitution and want the Ohio Supreme Court to intervene again.

Justices just threw out the original maps as unconstitutional and partisan gerrymanders and ordered the Ohio Redistricting Commission to redraw them.

The commission revised and adopted the second batch last weekend over the objections of Democrats.

But now voting advocates contend in new court records that, while the latest maps reduce Republican-leaning seats in the House and Senate, they still do not match the will of the voters.

The revised plan packs Democrats into one Senate District in Hamilton County, according to the lawsuit.

The Senate Plan combined House districts 24, 25, and 26 to create Senate District 9, while combining House districts 30, 29, 28 to form a sprawling Senate District 8, the lawsuit contends. The net effect was to pack Democratic voters into Senate District 9 – with a 72.61% Democratic vote share – while turning Senate District 8 into a Republican seat – with a 40.45% Democratic vote share.

The voting rights groups want the Ohio Supreme Court to declare the new maps unconstitutional, order the commission to draw the third set of maps and, if necessary, delay the Feb. 2 deadline for candidates to file paperwork.

“The Commission’s refusal to follow this Court’s order and comply with the Ohio Constitution reflects a stubborn intransigence toward complying with (the Ohio Constitution), and a troubling willingness to flout those mandates whenever political expediency might dictate,” attorneys wrote.

The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday set a noon Friday deadline for the Ohio Redistricting Commission to respond.

With the May primary filing deadline next week, State Rep. Bill Seitz of Green Township, the second-highest-ranking Republican in the House, tells FOX19 NOW lawmakers will have to take action Wednesday to prevent candidates from being disqualified amid the redistricting fight.

“Today we will be passing emergency legislation to facilitate candidates being on the ballot and not getting bounced on technicalities like wrong the district number or petitions with persons who are not from the geographic confines of whatever district they end up running in,” he said.

“I cannot predict the outcome in court, but the whole basis of the challenge now is that these activists for the left are hellbent on achieving a Democrat gerrymander. We gave them maps favoring Democrats and now they are whining that those maps don’t favor Democrats by a larger percentage!”

The voting advocates contend the revised plan violates the Ohio Constitution in three ways:

  • The Revised Senate Map violates Section 6(B), because in drawing the map, the Commission deviated further from proportionality than required by any other provision of Article XI;
  • The Revised House Map also violates Section 6(B), because it also deviates further from proportionality than required by any other provision of Article XI; and
  • The Revised House Map was drawn to primarily favor the Republican Party, violating Section 6(A).

“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. But under our state’s law, politicians do not get to choose their voters,” said Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio.

“We ask the Court to enforce the fairness and proportionality requirements set forth in Section 6 and reject this second attempt to gerrymander Ohio’s legislative districts.”

Julie Ebenstein, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said “The commission failed to hear the court’s message that district maps are not to be manipulated to the detriment of voters or for political gain. The commission’s latest version of district maps does not meet the requirements put forth by the court or state constitution.”

State Rep. Brigid Kelly, D-Hyde Park, said Ohio voters “overwhelmingly demanded fair maps not once, but twice. Instead, they got partisan process resulting in at least one set of unconstitutional maps. Ohio voters deserve better.”

A spokesman for Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, said: “We fully expected objections to the newly adopted maps - these filings are consistent with the court order. We will defend these latest constitutional maps approved by the Redistricting Commission as they proceed through the court.”

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