Redrawn Ohio district maps challenged in court, Ohio Legislature delaying work on Congressional maps
Meeting almost entirely out of public view, the Ohio Redistricting Commission voted 5-2 on party lines to adopt revised state House and Senate district maps that fail the Court’s specific instructions to meet the Ohio Constitution’s definition of representational fairness – 54% Republican seats and 46% Democratic – based on votes cast in statewide elections over the preceding decade. Plaintiffs have filed a second appeal as the Court reviews the redrawn maps, with candidate filing deadlines looming.
According to the Statehouse News Bureau, the Commission’s Republicans have subsequently asked the Ohio Supreme Court to let the new maps be used for the 2022 election even before the Court not yet ruled on whether they are constitutional. Everyone is now waiting to see if the Court will accept maps the Commission presents as likely to produce a 57% Republican majority in the House and 60% in the Senate. In her opinion for the majority invalidating the first set of maps, Justice Melody Stewart cited testimony showing that over 60 maps had been submitted by the public last year that fully complied with all the constitutional provisions including representational fairness.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Legislature has yet to begin any work in public on revising the Congressional maps which the Ohio Supreme Court also found unconstitutional. If the General Assembly fails to pass the new map with bipartisan support by Feb. 15, the process reverts to the Redistricting Commission: the same body which failed to comply with the Court’s order on representational fairness, and which produced the new state plan behind closed doors.
Please write to your state representative and Senator (see “Who Represents Me?”) and two Redistricting Commission members who are also members of the General Assembly: House Speaker Bob Cupp and Senator Vernon Sykes. Tell them what you expect in a fair and transparent map-making process and result. You can review the evidence in the Ohio Supreme Court decision of Jan. 15, which includes both the majority ruling and the dissent (joined by Justice Patrick DeWine, whose father, Gov. Mike DeWine, is a member of the Redistricting Commission).
In summarizing their reasons for ruling the state district maps unconstitutional, Justice Melody Stewart wrote for the majority: “Given the extensive expert testimony provided by Plaintiffs, it is abundantly clear that it is possible to draw multiple maps that comply with all of the sections [on constitutional rules for state districts] listed above. In fact, Fair Districts Ohio held a mapping competition where citizen-mappers submitted over 60 maps that fully complied with this provision. Accordingly, we call on the Commission to ensure that any proposed maps comply with Section 6… As used in Article XI, Section 6(B) of the Ohio Constitution, the term “statewide preferences of the voters of Ohio” means the percentages of votes received by the candidates of each political party based on the total votes cast in statewide state and federal partisan elections during the preceding ten years. In this case, there is no dispute that under this methodology, which looks at votes cast in statewide elections over the relevant period, about 54 percent of Ohio voters preferred Republican candidates and about 46 percent of Ohio voters preferred Democratic candidates. Accordingly, under Section 6(B), the commission is required to attempt to draw a plan in which the statewide proportion of Republican-leaning districts to Democratic-leaning districts closely corresponds to those percentages. (pg 44, para 107).”
Although the revised maps appear to improve the partisan balance, Fair Districts advocates including Common Cause Ohio cite data indicating that many of the Democratic-leaning districts are toss-ups with a likely margin of 1% or less, while the Republican-leaning districts have a partisan index of at least 52% Republican.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruling that the Congressional map is unconstitutional cites specific standards from Article XIX forbidding “unduly favoring or disfavoring a political party” and “unduly splitting governmental units” – specifically citing Hamilton County among others – to pack and crack likely Democratic voters.
“When the dealer stacks the deck in advance, the house usually wins,” wrote Justice Michael Donnelly in the majority opinion. “That perhaps explains how a party that generally musters no more than 55 percent of the statewide popular vote is positioned to reliably win anywhere from 75 percent to 80 percent of the seats in the Ohio congressional delegation. The incontrovertible evidence in these cases establishes that the plan passed by the General Assembly fails to honor the constitutional process set out in Article XIX to reapportion Ohio’s congressional districts. The General Assembly produced a plan that is infused with undue partisan bias and that is incomprehensibly more extremely biased than the 2011 plan that it replaced. This is not what Ohio voters wanted or expected when they approved Article XIX as a means to end partisan gerrymandering in Ohio for good. The time has now come for the General Assembly to faithfully discharge the constitutional responsibilities imposed by Article XIX and by oath of office.”
Advocacy briefings are compiled by Ariel Miller, a member of Ascension & Holy Trinity, Wyoming, and a member of the diocesan Becoming Beloved Community Leadership Team. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org