GOP says ‘attempts’ on partisanship make Ohio Statehouse maps constitutional

By: - January 28, 2022 3:46 pm

The Republican majority members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission. Top row from left, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose. Bottom row from left Ohio Auditor Keith Faber, House Speaker Bob Cupp, and Senate President Matt Huffman. Official photos.

The GOP members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission have said objections to their maps have no merit because they made their best attempt at politically balancing the maps.

Democrats on the commission filed their own response in favor of invalidating the second version of the maps, just as those who objected to them want.

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

The GOP argued in favor of keeping the maps, in part because from their perspective, the Ohio Supreme Court’s directive and the voter-approved constitutional amendment gave them discretion in how they decided the partisan divide and definitions of words like “compact” when it comes to district maps.

“By not precisely defining the terms ‘correspond closely’ and ‘compact,’ the voters left to the commission at least some discretion to interpret these terms when developing a general assembly district plan,” attorneys for the ORC members wrote.

The commissioners said the court “should defer to the commission when making a reasonable interpretation of these terms when drawing general assembly districts.”

The GOP commissioners said the fact that they attempted to get to the court-ordered 54% GOP to 46% Dem split was enough to consider themselves in compliance with the supreme court directives.

“Here, the commission used its discretion to determine that the Revised Plan ‘corresponds closely’ with the statewide preferences of the voters of Ohio,” the ORC filing stated. “Because that decision is rooted in good law, common sense, and is not clearly erroneous or unconstitutional, the court should uphold the Revised Plan.”

The maps approved by the GOP members of the ORC had a 57-41 split in the Ohio House, with a 20-13 split in the Senate.

Commission co-chair state Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, and House Minority Leader Allison Russo stood in opposition to the rest of the commissioners, saying there is “clear conflict” between the interests of the Democrats on the ORC and the GOP.

Russo said, for her part, that she asked staff, including Dem mapmaker Chris Glassburn, to “report the substance of their attempts to collaborate with the Republican Commissioners and their team.” The staff reported that Republicans “were not committed to drawing proportional maps even when presented with suggestions for doing so.”

The House Minority Leader said until the morning of the ORC meeting on Jan. 22, she hadn’t received a copy of the GOP map proposal.

“Indeed, I had little clue what was coming, given that the (Republican) map-makers had not made their plans – aside from a few counties – known and had not agreed that achieving proportionality, without violating any of the other constitutional requirements, was a goal,” Russo wrote in an affidavit attached to her court filing.

She and Sykes said a “lack of collaboration doomed the commission’s map,” and had improvements been allowed, they “could have satisfied this court’s decision.”

Sykes said he went to Cupp several times to inquire about map timelines, collaboration and map requirements, along with when public input on any maps would occur.

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

“Speaker Cupp rebuffed all my requests, indicating that there was not an appetite among the Republican members of the commission for hearing more public testimony,” Sykes wrote in his affidavit to the court.

He, too, said his access to the map that would eventually be adopted by a simple majority was limited to a few counties.

“I was otherwise in the dark about their proposal,” Sykes wrote. “Because they did not share their work with my staff or me, I was excluded from collaborating and making suggestions on what they would propose that the commission adopt.”

Glassburn submitted his own affidavit, similar to statement he’d previously made during ORC meetings that he was not confident in the process due to a lack of collaboration.

Russo and Sykes said they adopted the legal arguments made by those objecting to the maps, specifically violations of the anti-partisan favoritism provision, Section 6 of the Ohio Constitution.

The commissioners filed their case without legal counsel, after accusing Attorney General Dave Yost (also a Republican) of denying their right to separate counsel.

They cited an OCJ investigation that quoted the AG’s office as saying “one counsel will respond to the court on behalf of the entire commission.”

“We ask that the court again invalidate the map adopted by the Republican commissioners, order the commission to draw a map that complies with the Ohio constitution and this court’s pronouncements, and direct the legislature and Secretary of State to make the necessary adjustments to the election schedule to accommodate this court’s orders,” Russo and Sykes wrote in their filing.

The GOP asked that the court keep the revised maps in place until at least February 11 or stay any decision until the 2022 general election because of election administration deadlines for the May primary.

The ORC cited precedent in the 2012 legislative elections, which were allowed to continue under the 2011 district maps as the new maps were challenged.

“Boards of election, candidates and the voters who need to know who is vying to represent them need certainty and proceeding pursuant to the map under challenge will provide it,” the commission wrote.

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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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