Ohio’s ongoing redistricting battles have impacted the November election by changing districts and creating the need for two primaries.
The congressional redistricting map decision by the Ohio Supreme Court, which deemed the map unconstitutional and unduly partisan, is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by Republican legislative leaders Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Bob Cupp, along with the legislators who took over for Huffman and Cupp on the Ohio Redistricting Commission earlier this year.
The legislative redistricting map remains unconstitutional as well, but the a federal court intervened, deciding that a previous unconstitutional map would be used in the 2022 election, leading the way for a renewed redistricting fight impacting the 2024 races.
In the majority opinion released by two of the three judges on the panel back in May, the judges said they acted as a last resort, after legislative methods did not resolve the issue.
“We must presume state actors will work together to reach homegrown solutions,” the majority wrote. “And if they fail, then it is up to the voters to punish them if they so choose.”
After a full year of redistricting chaos – which has led to a renewed push for reforms – many of the members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission face November battles at the ballot box, where scrutiny of their decisions regarding redistricting may be on voters’ minds.
Gov. Mike DeWine convened the ORC at the start of the process, and was a member throughout, voting to approve every district map that was adopted by the commission, all of them GOP-led efforts that were strongly rebuked by the Democratic members of the commission.
DeWine did voice some concerns about the maps as each option hit the Ohio Supreme Court for final approval, starting with the first map that was approved through a GOP-majority vote. After the vote, he said it wasn’t up to him to judge the legality of the maps, “that’s up for a court to do.”
Just before the last map to be adopted by the ORC was struck down by the state supreme court, DeWine said map challengers “are completely detached from both the facts and reality,” in court filings.
A spokesperson for DeWine said he wasn’t surprised by the move to appeal the congressional maps to the nation’s highest court, but also said “it is prudent that we decline comment on the ongoing litigation.”
“It really is a separation of powers issue between the legislative and judicial branches,” press secretary Dan Tierney told the OCJ.
DeWine’s opponent, former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, has regularly criticized and condemned the way in which DeWine and the rest of the ORC conducted the process.
“DeWine’s continued inaction has been pathetic and is further proof that he can’t stand up for Ohioans when push comes to shove. Ohioans deserve better,” Whaley told the OCJ through a spokesperson. “As governor, I’d do what a majority of Ohioans voted for and support fair maps, no matter the political consequences.”
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose pushed back in several instances when the commission was considering maps, mostly to say that time was running out for the state to hold primary elections.
On the first set of Statehouse district maps, LaRose spoke of hesitation in approving it, but risking unconstitutionality didn’t stop him from voting to adopt the map.
“I’m casting my ‘yes’ vote with great unease,” LaRose said. “I fear we’ll be back in this room very soon.”
As the fifth legislative map was up for a vote and a sixth map was up against a deadline that passed, LaRose eventually said he couldn’t vote on a map because it stood no hope of being implemented.
The lawsuit that entered federal court to push through a map for use in primary elections listed LaRose, the state’s chief elections officer, as a party. LaRose himself was asked to provide “drop-dead” dates of primary deadlines to help the court decide what to do in the case.
The incumbent secretary of state also made headlines when he told a meeting of the Union County Republicans that he wouldn’t oppose the impeachment of outgoing Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor over joining the majority in redistricting rulings.
Democrat Chelsea Clark and independent candidate Terpsehore “Tore” Maras, opponents of LaRose in the November SOS race, did not respond to requests for comment.
Auditor Keith Faber stood as the only member of the Republican contingent in the ORC to vote against maps supported by the GOP.
Voting against the fourth map put into place by a GOP majority, Faber told reporters exactly why he pushed back.
“I think that there’s a decent chance that this map won’t meet the court’s test,” Faber said in March, after the maps were approved without need for his support.
But Faber also pushed back when independent mapmakers were inserted into the process, saying their maps came in too late to be fully considered. This, despite the fact that some of the maps Faber had approved previously from legislative staff map drawers had come in hours before a vote as well.
Faber also told reporters that he was not okay with the maps he voted against because he wanted to avoid a Democratic gerrymander.
Faber’s November opponent, Nelsonville city auditor Taylor Sappington, said if the incumbent state auditor and the rest of the ORC members who adopted maps later found to be unconstitutional are left in office, “the rule of law will continue to fall apart.”
“We have to go back to maps, we have to make sure that obstructionists and extremists are removed from office so that we can get maps that regular people … can run for office in their hometown, just like I have, and win because the district is competitive,” Sappington told the OCJ.
State Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, and state Rep. Jeff LaRe, R-Violet Twp., are both up for reelection but are unopposed. The two legislators took over for Huffman and Cupp after they left the commission to deal with other legislative duties, the leaders said in announcing their departure.
McColley had a leading role in the first congressional map effort, presenting the GOP plan to the legislature. It was the first of two congressional maps the state has seen this redistricting cycle, both of which have been struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court.
LaRe took over as co-chair of the commission, and signed a letter saying the commission would not move on a sixth attempt ordered by the state supreme court, saying the constitution, not the supreme court, decides when the commission should act.
House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, is also running unopposed in her reelection campaign. Russo stood in staunch opposition to all maps proposed by the GOP, and in support of anti-gerrymandering lawsuits challenging the redistricting plans.
“It has been made perfectly clear over and over again that the power grab being attempted to take away Ohioans basic freedom to vote fairly is nothing but unlawful,” Russo said in response to the congressional appeal announcement last week.
Nick Evans contributed to this report.
Originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal. Republished here with permission.