Ohio Redistricting Commission adds two new mapmakers

Dems ask Ohio Supreme Court to move primary

By: - March 22, 2022 3:55 am

House Speaker and Ohio Redistricting Commission co-chair Bob Cupp, center seated, speaks with House Minority Leader Allison Russo, right seated, as fellow co-chair state Sen. Vernon Sykes looks on. The ORC agreed to hire two outside mapmakers to assist in the process of legislative redistrict after a third set of maps was struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court. (Photo: Susan Tebben, OCJ)

The same day that mapmakers were finalized to bring about a fourth version of the legislative redistricting maps, Democratic members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission asked the state’s highest court to move the May 3 primary.

Indecision mounted in the Monday evening meeting of the ORC, where they fretted over the hiring of independent mapmakers to join the four caucus map-drawers in working with less than a week before the March 28 deadline imposed by the court.

The two co-chairs, House Speaker Bob Cupp and state Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, proposed two people who have had experience with redistricting.

The two men were put forward after experts proposed by Attorney General Dave Yost said they weren’t available to do the work, according to Senate President Matt Huffman.

Yost had said in a letter to commission members that the two, who had worked on redistricting maps for the state of Virginia, were available immediately.

Cupp proposed Douglas Johnson, who is the president of Ashland Demographics Corporation and notes he has worked on more than 250 redistricting projects in his career. He included in his experience an expert witness declaration and testimony for the state of North Carolina in litigation regarding the federal Voting Rights Act.

Johnson also fell into some controversy in 2019, when his expert testimony was thrown out by a three-judge panel in their partisan gerrymandering case.

Sykes proposed Professor Michael McDonald from the University of Florida, who has worked on elections and as a “redistricting consultant or expert witness” in many states, including Ohio.

He also stated in his university profile that he was a co-principle investigator on the Public Mapping Project on drawing electoral districts.

But neither of the men seemed to have been considered by the full commission, with Cupp saying because of his schedule on Monday, he wasn’t able to read McDonald’s resume before the commission meeting began.

The ORC members then said they weren’t sure what the specific pay rate would be for the two men, and how the pair would know the full scope of their work for the commission.

An hour-long recess was held so the members could look over the resumes and attempt to try to contact the candidates to confirm their availability to do the work.

Auditor Keith Faber and Secretary of State Frank LaRose called into question McDonald’s “conflicts” with working in Ohio, with LaRose saying he was uncomfortable knowing McDonald had “some affiliation” with Marc Elias. Elias is a lawyer representing the National Redistricting Action Fund, a party to redistricting lawsuits in the state.

Russo argued that it would be hard to find any single person without bias, but that balance should be the goal in mapmaking. She also said in conversations with McDonald on Monday night, he agreed to sign a conflict disclosure.

Faber said he wouldn’t object to either choice, as long as conflict disclosure forms were signed by both and they agreed to be truly independent.

“As long as that’s the understanding, I don’t object to either of these individuals that I know nothing about,” Faber said.

At the end of the night, there were no formal objections to choosing McDonald and Johnson as the independent mapdrawers.

The two are set to arrive for work on Wednesday, working alongside the original mapdrawers on each side of the political aisle: Ray DiRossi and Blake Springhetti for the Republican caucus, and Chris Glassburn and Randall Routt for the Democratic caucus.

The commission scheduled a Tuesday morning meeting to lay down ground rules for the creation of the maps.

Primary date debate

Earlier in the day, House Minority Leader Allison Russo and state Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, formally asked the Ohio Supreme Court to move the primary to June 28, or another date “that indisputably allows sufficient time for the commission to adopt and implement a new, constitutional set of maps.”

The request came as a filing in the lawsuits currently pending against the ORC, from which this new directive to draw new maps came.

Attorneys for Russo and Sykes brought up the existence of a federal lawsuit from Republican Ohio voters, who wish to take the case out of the supreme court’s hands, in favor of a three-judge panel to decide whether or not previously adopted maps can be used.

The three judge panel has been assigned, but has not met to consider whether or not the case should go forward. The plaintiffs in that case, which includes Ohio Right to Life head Mike Gonidakis, have asked for the federal court to allow the state to use the plan adopted by the ORC on Feb. 24 for the 2022 election.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose said in the federal lawsuit that the invalidation of the third ORC legislative plan means election boards won’t have time to include the legislative maps in the May 3 primary. He was in favor of going ahead with the Feb. 24 maps.

Sykes and Russo asked the court to move the primary to “ensure that (the Ohio Supreme) Court can continue working with the commission to make progress on adopting and implementing a plan that satisfies both state and federal constitutional requirements,” and that would “allow that process to continue unimpeded by the federal litigation.”

Moving the primary would allow county boards of election to prepare for the primary, allow the commission to adopt new maps, and allow candidates sufficient time to move, along with accommodating overseas and military voters in need of absentee ballots.

“June 28 would afford plenty of time to have a primary election completed for the general election in November,” Sykes and Russo argue.

Though legislators have argued that only the General Assembly has the authority to determine the “time, place and manner” of elections, Sykes and Russo say the supreme court has the ability to move it, based on their inherent authority to “do all things reasonably necessary to the administration of justice in the case before it.”

The court set a deadline of March 23 at 9 a.m. for any responses to the primary request.

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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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