Opponents of Ohio legislative maps must object by Tuesday


By Julie Carr Smyth - Associated Press



COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Voting-rights and Democratic groups displeased with Ohio’s latest round of legislative district maps have until Tuesday to object.

Advocacy groups and Democrats voiced strong opposition to the newly drawn boundaries, which the Ohio Redistricting Commission approved along party lines Saturday in the face of a court-set deadline, as yet another partisan gerrymander. Republicans defended the district lines crafted by their mapmakers as the only ones to fully meet the Ohio Constitution.

The stakes are high for three so-far-successful constitutional challenges before the Ohio Supreme Court. The court’s ultimate decision could affect the make-up of the Ohio House and Ohio Senate for the next 10 years.

Both chambers currently hold Republican supermajorities that have supported GOP priorities such as expanding access to guns, restricting abortions and prohibiting racism instruction in schools. Voter advocates argue such policies are more extreme than the state’s 54% Republican-46% Democratic voter mix would support, if citizens were properly represented at the Statehouse.

A rewrite of Ohio’s election laws is also on tap for later this year that could affect voter access in the 2024 presidential election.

Republicans have at points defended retaining their strong majorities based on Ohio’s evolving politics. They argue that averaging races from the past decade doesn’t properly reflect Ohio’s undoing as a political bellwether and its recent strong tack to the right. Ohioans twice supported Republican Donald Trump — in 2016, the year he won; and 2020, the year he lost — by more than 8 percentage points.

Justices invalidated earlier legislative maps approved by the commission in September as unconstitutionally gerrymandered to unduly benefit one party over the other. They gave the seven-member panel, comprised of five Republicans and two Democrats, 10 days to submit a new plan.

But commissioners — including the governor, secretary of state, auditor and four state legislators — failed to come to an agreement on a bipartisan compromise.

Though some common ground was found in private negotiations, ultimately Republicans peppered Democrats’ map-making consultant with hours of adversarial questioning at Saturday’s hearing and then approved their own plan. They appeared to ignore a map that parties in winning lawsuits submitted and declared constitutionally compliant.

Justices gave three days after Saturday’s vote for objections to be filed. The court retained the right to review the revised maps, in a redistricting process rewritten by voters in 2015 and in use for the first time.

To be certain, the new bipartisan map-making process has brought the two parties ever closer.

In the Ohio House, currently split 64-35 in Republicans’ favor, the first map changed the mix to 62-37 and Saturday’s map changed it to 57-42, based on estimates that don’t factor in a number of districts that mapmakers say will be political toss-ups. Democrats sought a 56-43 Republican advantage.

In the Ohio Senate, currently split 25-8 in Republicans’ favor, the first map changed the mix to 23-10 and Saturday’s map changed it to 20-13, again with some districts being potential toss-ups. Democrats sought a GOP advantage of 18-15.

By Julie Carr Smyth

Associated Press