Groups say Ohio legislative maps still violate constitution

Redistricting commission has until Friday to respond

By: - January 27, 2022 4:00 am

Senate President Matt Huffman looks at redistricting map proposals during a recent Ohio Redistricting Commission meeting. (Photo: Susan Tebben, OCJ)

The newest maps approved by the Ohio Redistricting Commission remain unconstitutional and “grossly disproportionate,” according to objections filed by anti-gerrymandering groups.

The ORC now has until Friday to respond to three objections made to maps they adopted in a Saturday meeting last week, according to an Ohio Supreme Court directive released on Wednesday.

The League of Women Voters of Ohio, the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, and a group of private citizens led by state representative candidate Bria Bennett, all parties in court challenges to the original redistricting effort, filed individual objections.

“The Republican caucus map drawers used the unconstitutional plan as a template, tweaked it slightly, and presented a new plan that the commission once again adopted along party lines,” the OOC said in their objection to the new maps. “It remains unconstitutional.”

The ORC, of which there were five Republican members and two Democrats, had ten days to redraw maps that the Ohio Supreme Court found unconstitutional.

The LWV pointed specifically to certain counties, including Hamilton County, as examples where the commission “easily could have drawn” fully compliant districts but “deliberately chose not to do so.”

The constitutional violations named in the objections are similar to those under which the groups sued originally, and for which the maps were overturned. Section 6 of the Ohio Constitution, a provision meant to keep district maps in the state from favoring one political party over another.

Ohio Senate districts, adopted by a 5-2 simple majority of the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

The newly adopted maps have two dozen districts that Republicans consider “Democratic leaning,” however, because the splits have single-digit advantages, the groups arguing against the new maps say they can only be considered “virtual tossups.”

“Thus, the plan functions as a one-way ratchet in favor of Republicans: Across a range of realistic election outcomes, Republican advantage can only grow, and never shrink,” attorneys for the OOC wrote.

Challengers brought forth expert witnesses, political scientists who experimented with maps, all of whom said their hypothetical maps were more proportional than the revised and approved maps.

Professor Michael Latner, of the California Polytechnic State University, was commissioned by the LWV to analyze the plan and other submitted plans for constitutional compliance, relying on 2010 and 2020 census data and 2016-2020 election data.

“The configuration of districts is reasonably expected to sustain a veto-proof supermajority in the Senate,” Latner wrote in an affidavit attached to the objection. “The Revised Plan also continues to systematically disfavor Democratic voters and produces significant asymmetry.”

Bennett and the other Ohioans represented in the third objection called into question the process along with the maps, especially the “secretive” map-making lacking in public input.

Ohio House districts, as proposed by the GOP majority and adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

The commission did not conduct a hearing until much of the remedial period had passed,” the objection states. “Even then, it did not allow public testimony or consider any maps submitted by the public, and it employed technical maneuvers to flout notice requirements.”

The map challengers said it didn’t help that none of the map data, such as block files, were provided until after the maps were approved, but upon review, attorneys for Bennett say the maps splits political subdivisions, is not proportional and adjusts district lines “ever so minimally so that formerly Republican-leaning districts become ever so slightly Democratic-leaning.”

This could have been because, as the LWV argues, commission members and staff didn’t work together to bring forth maps that benefit both sides.

“Although the commission members spoke generally about ‘working together’ and making ‘compromises,’ the commission members did not direct their caucus staffers to work on a single plan to be presented to the commission for adoption,” the LWV objection stated. “Instead, just like before, the respective caucuses directed their staffers to work on their own partisan plans.”

All three groups asked that the supreme court declare the new GA maps invalid, keep the ORC from using the previous map as a starting point, and order them to adopt a new plan.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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