Commentary

Don’t let Ohio’s hot mess stop you from exercising your freedom to vote

April 26, 2022 3:20 am

Getty Images photo of voters in line.

What a hot mess. Thanks to Ohio Republicans, enjoying a monopoly of power from the last redistricting sham they engineered after the 2010 Census, a critical election has been turned into a crapshoot. Thanks to one party, impervious to the needless chaos it created for voters, poll workers, and election administrators with lopsided district maps shot down by the state supreme court, Ohioans are confused, disgusted and done with the whole sordid affair.

Two weeks out of the May 3 primary, early voting by mail and in-person was down nearly 30% compared with the same period four years ago. If the Republican goal was to suppress the vote with protracted gamesmanship to turn redistricting reform on its head for partisan advantage — mission accomplished. The anti-democratic party running Ohio into the ground is driven solely by a desire for dominance and has shown — certainly with its abject lawlessness on warped mapmaking — the lengths it will go to achieve that end.

But we the people are not powerless in the fight to save self-government from autocratic politicians. Make no mistake, the battle is on between a functioning democracy of one person, one vote and subjugation to unaccountable authority. We all have skin in this struggle, which is why, despite the muddled Ohio midterm ballot foisted on us by self-serving Republican leaders, Ohio voters must show up in 2022. Too much is riding on this crucial referendum for state and federal leadership to sit it out.  

Let anger over the redistricting charade pulled on statewide voters — who twice amended the Ohio Constitution to inject fairness into the drawing of state district boundaries — motivate you to the polls next Tuesday. There’s plenty to be livid about with this unnecessary distraction of undetermined districts — including the hefty bill taxpayers will have to pay for the hot mess that state Republicans alone created. Hold that thought.

The first primary election (yes, we are forced to have two, thanks to Team Gerrymander) will be missing all the state legislative races. That’s because Republican legislative leaders, and enabling statewide Republican officeholders, defied the law on drawing fair district maps for the Ohio Senate and the Ohio House. An exasperated Ohio Supreme Court rejected their unconstitutional handiwork. Four times. Maybe the fifth will be a charm but don’t bet on it. 

It’s no secret that state Republicans have been orchestrating a con to run out the clock on complying with the constitution. They brazenly acted above the law. Linger on the arrogance. Top GOP officials in the Statehouse and on the Ohio Redistricting Commission let months slip by last year with no action and no effort to convene stakeholders urging collaboration on map-drawing ahead of the delayed census data. 

But Republican foot-dragging on redistricting was a calculated strategy from the beginning. The idea was to slow walk the mapmaking process until it bumped into 2022 election deadlines. Then pressure to come up with something to conduct the impending vote might prompt default to the party’s gerrymandered maps. Looks like that strategy paid off.

A federal court may give Ohio Republicans what they wanted all along. If the Republican-dominated redistricting commission fails to come up with a new legislative map that passes constitutional muster by May 28, the court said it will default to a gerrymandered map previously rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court. Commence the GOP foot-dragging. 

Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Bob Cupp, backed by Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and State Auditor Keith Faber, stand to get away with district maps that plainly favor one party over another, a gross injustice manifestly prohibited by law. But the Republican leaders never intended to work on our behalf in a good faith bipartisanship. Never intended to produce fair, competitive, representative balance in district maps for state and federal lawmakers. 

Never meant to cede power gained only through political manipulation of district maps. Never seriously sought our input on drawing district lines ultimately crafted out of public view by Republican operatives. They dismissed the constitutional amendments we overwhelmingly approved as “aspirational” not compulsory. They flouted the governing document of the state with impunity. Will they get away with it?

Controlling Republicans expect a more gerrymander-friendly state supreme court and chief justice will affirm their lawless maps after the election. We were naïve to hope for better, for state leaders committed to fair play in redistricting. Instead, they flipped off voters and disobeyed the law. Which brings us back to the hot mess we’re in with next week’s partial election and missing ballot races, a second primary election in the offing, ongoing court challenges, threatened judicial impeachment and voters vacillating between rage and resignation.  

When the Republican duplicity on redistricting is a fait accompli, as seems likely, the anti-democratic party in Ohio will have succeeded not only in again rigging election outcomes to win by cheating but wasted $25 million or so of our hard-earned tax dollars on an extra election caused by months of one-sided subterfuge. (Add a million to that tab for attorney fees to defend distorted Republican maps and nearly $100,000 for ignored independent mapmakers.)

There is your motivation to vote in 2022. For accountability. For equal representation in voting. For candidates— gubernatorial, U.S. Senate and U.S. House — who honor the rule of law and put people over politics. Do it.

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Marilou Johanek
Marilou Johanek

Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.

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