Battle over Ohio’s legislative maps continues

Republicans in charge of map making have kept the upper hand after a federal court ruling.

CLEVELAND — Ohio lawmakers in charge of drawing maps that define political boundaries still can’t agree on what a fair map looks like.

Republicans – including Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose – control the process as members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission. They like the versions the commission has proposed so far.

But the Ohio Supreme Court has struck down the General Assembly maps four times – declaring they are rigged in the GOP’s favor and fall short of the 2015 voter-backed amendment to the Ohio constitution requiring more balanced districts.

Republican interests took their case to federal court to ultimately get around Ohio’s high-court judges. On Wednesday, the federal court ruled that if the commission can’t agree on a new map – or does nothing by May 28 – it will have to use the third map rejected earlier by the Ohio Supreme Court.

This will likely trigger an Aug. 2 primary for the state legislative races. (It’s not likely the state lawmakers will move the primary, which only they can do).

Republicans celebrated the ruling. State Rep. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati mocked Democrats, tweeting, “Game over, you lost.”

Democrats decried the ruling as ignoring the will of voters, and party members on the commission say they are ready to meet again.

Voter advocates behind the push for fair districts also called on Republican leaders to reconvene. They also expressed their disappointment in the federal court’s decision.

“Now the only acceptable path forward is for the Ohio Redistricting Commission to convene and adopt a fair map,” Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, said. “The blame falls squarely on the majority members of the commission who defiantly disrespected the redistricting process, Ohio voters, and the Ohio Supreme Court orders at every turn. This is truly our last shot at a constitutional, bipartisan legislative map for 2022, and we know it is possible, if there is political will from the powers at be.”

3News asked Dan Tierney, DeWine’s press secretary, if the governor is pushing the commission to try again or if he plans to run out the clock. Tierney said DeWine is still reviewing the federal court ruling and remains open minded, adding the governor has tried to balance the policy issues embedded in our elections laws with the constitutional amendment.

Tierney says the governor is still at home after testing positive for COVID-19, so he’s not meeting with anyone at the moment. Other Republicans in charge of redistricting have not signaled if they plan to meet.