by J.D. Davidson
Ohio voters will not be able to decide on candidates for the state Legislature during the May 3 primary after the state Supreme Court struck down new district maps for the third time.
In a letter to House and Senate leadership and Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose said it was no longer logistically possible to include district-specific legislative races on the ballots.
“After mounting a monumental effort over the last few weeks, our bipartisan elections officials were ready to conduct this election on time, as I directed,” LaRose wrote. “However, those boards are now left once again without clear districts to certify legislative candidates, and they’re simply out of time to complete the required work that must be done to reprogram election systems with new district data.”
Spokespeople for Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, and House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, said they are reviewing the court’s most-recent decision and discussing options.
The court ruled, 4-3, late Wednesday night the state redistricting maps unfairly favor Republicans, saying the Ohio Redistricting Commission has attempted three sets of maps without input from Democrats, instead using GOP staffers to draft each map.
Aside from claiming the process was not transparent, the court focused on toss-up districts and said it could not count to the proportionality it required in previous rulings.
It also ordered a more collaborative effort between Republicans and Democrats on the commission and for the commission to hold more frequent public hearings.
The commission – which consists of LaRose; Huffman; Cupp; Gov. Mike DeWine; State Auditor Keith Faber; House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington; and Senate Minority Leader Vernon Sykes, D-Akron – must have new maps to the court by 9 a.m. March 29.
Democrats applauded the ruling, calling on Republican members of the commission to work with Democrats on the group’s fourth attempt at maps.
“For a third time, the Supreme Court has ruled that the majority party is not above the law and cannot blatantly disregard the will of Ohio voters and the Ohio Constitution,” Russo said in a statement. “Democrats have a state legislative map proposal ready to go that is fair, constitutional, and closely reflects the statewide voting preferences of Ohioans. Now, it is up to the Republican Commissioners to work with us to adopt the fair maps Ohioans deserve.”
While LaRose’s letter said the primary will move forward with local and congressional races, the Supreme Court already has ruled a first set of congressional district maps as unconstitutional and has yet to rule on the second attempt at those maps.
“Additionally, my office is currently involved in or monitoring no less than nine local, state or federal lawsuits seeking in some way to cause chaos and confusion for voters and to postpone the primary election,” LaRose wrote. “As I’ve often stated in recent weeks, I believe the motive is entirely political, and the strategy is being bankrolled by out of state special interests ultimately seeking court-ordered gerrymandering for partisan advantage.”
– – –
J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist at The Center Square with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher.