ACLU unhappily files congressional challenge aiming for 2024, instead of 2022

By: - March 25, 2022 3:40 am

Hundreds line up outside the Franklin County Board of Elections. Photo by Marty Schladen, Ohio Capital Journal.

“Nobody is happy with where we find ourselves today.”

That’s how the ACLU and League of Women Voters feel about filing a lawsuit on congressional maps, but not because they don’t want to fight.

The newest lawsuit, unlike the one filed on behalf of Ohio voters by the National Redistricting Action Fund, requests that problems they see in the most recent congressional map adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission be remedied in time for the 2024 election cycle.

The league, a non-partisan group focused on voting rights in the state, said they aren’t focused on the 2022 election in this case because there is simply no time for true results.

“While we do have serious concerns with the constitutional violations in congressional districts one and 15; still, at some point soon, an election will be held,” said Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, in a statement announcing the new lawsuit. “Whether it is held May 3 or at some later date, it is approaching soon and voters in Ohio are entitled to an orderly election.”

The lawsuit argues that the congressional plan violates the redistricting requirements of the Ohio Constitution, specifically by splitting Democratic voters in Franklin County, having “submerged” Dem precincts on the edge of Columbus into District 15, west of the city. The map also “diluted a Democratic stronghold” in Hamilton County around Cincinnati by adding it to Warren County.

Later in the day, the ACLU and the LWV sent out a follow-up statement to their lawsuit announcement, after a day of criticism for not continuing the fight for 2022.

“While we would prefer that all of us could stand together in this legal strategy, we affirm that voters are our priority, and we have not given up,” the ACLU stated in a Wednesday afternoon press release.

The state constitution’s provisions regarding redistricting say that, if the Ohio Supreme Court invalidates a congressional map, the General Assembly has 30 days to come up with a new map, and if they can’t, the Ohio Redistricting Commission gets another 30 days to try its hand at it.

Because of the 60-day process, the ACLU said unless the primary election is “radically moved … relief for elections starting in 2024 is the best that is possible.”

This shortened timeline for redistricting isn’t arbitrary, the plaintiffs say, and is a strategic move by the GOP to control the process.

“This escalating crisis was manufactured for the purpose of running out the clock,” according to the ACLU.

Also on Wednesday, Secretary of State Frank LaRose officially sent a directive to county board of elections saying legislative races will not be included in May 3 primary races. The directive came because legislative maps were rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court for the third time, and have yet to be revised by the ORC.

LaRose was awaiting a decision by a U.S. District Court, who is currently considering a lawsuit by GOP voters, who wanted to see the Statehouse district process taken out of the hands of the state’s highest court, and hope a three-judge federal court panel will force the state to use the rejected maps for the primary election.

The court is set to meet on Friday to discuss the case, but no rulings were released on Wednesday. LaRose said that forced him to cut the legislative races from upcoming ballots.

Republicans have said lawsuits against the congressional map are attempting to relitigate settled cases, and to push the Ohio Supreme Court to push through a more Democratic map than would be constitutional.

They deny that their strategy has been anything other than drawing constitutional maps, continually blaming delays in the 2020 U.S. Census for the narrowed timeline of the redistricting process as a whole.

The responses from LaRose, Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Bob Cupp, all members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, were the same as those submitted in response to the lawsuit filed by the NRAF.

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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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