Speaker of the House Bob Cupp addresses the chamber.
Ohio’s House Speaker said Wednesday legislation is not coming to change the May primary date.
Speaker Bob Cupp said the process was “in the hands of the federal court,” despite various court documents in which he argued that the election is a legislative issue and any changes should be made in the General Assembly.
The Ohio Capital Journal asked Cupp directly to confirm the House had no plans for legislation to set a new primary date in the next two weeks.
“That is correct, we’re not in session,” Cupp said during a gaggle after Wednesday’s House session.
He was asked about potential changes to the election earlier in the press gathering, and he deferred the job.
“We’ll let the federal court process proceed,” Cupp said.
A federal lawsuit was filed by GOP voters earlier this year, claiming voters are losing their right to vote with the chaos surrounding redistricting. Originally, the plaintiffs, including Ohio Right to Life leader Michael Gonidakis, asked for the third map adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission to be forced into use by a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court.
That map was rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court before the federal lawsuit was filed, but the process of adopting a fourth version of legislative districts had not come to fruition.
The fourth map ended up being a near-copy of the third, rejected version, with Senate President Matt Huffman acknowledging as he moved for its approval that the map had “97%” similarity to the third version.
Because the process, which started in September, has taken so long, the Secretary of State’s Office was forced to remove legislative races from ballots for the May 3 primary, all but assuring a split primary.
Lawsuits have been filed with the Ohio Supreme Court asking for the fourth map to be invalidated for many of the same reasons the third map was, and map challengers have also asked the court to hold GOP commission members in contempt for violating court orders.
Cupp and Senate President Matt Huffman argued in previous court filings that the power for elections and drawing maps lies solely with the redistricting commission and legislators, seemingly contrary to Cupp’s Wednesday statements.
“It is the commission and the general assembly who solely possess the legislative authority to create legislative and congressional districts,” attorneys for the legislative leaders wrote in a court filing for lawsuits on congressional districts.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose in more recent court filings urged the judicial system to stay out of the process. In his filing countering objections to the most recent maps, he posited that the Ohio Redistricting Commission has more time to figure out legislative maps.
“More importantly, there is still time for the legislature to take steps to extend the time within which such a decision must be made,” LaRose said. “This court should not give up on the constitutional process even if the petitioners have.”
The federal court has chosen twice not to intervene in the state process to give it time to come to a resolution. The first time the court withheld judgment was just before the March 28 deadline for the commission to complete new maps.
At a hearing before Chief Judge Algenon Marbley, Judge Benjamin Beaton and Judge Amul Thapar last Wednesday, parties from the Secretary of State’s Office gave Aug. 2 as a potential date for a second primary to include the legislative races.
The judges entertained the idea of not just the third map, but also the map drawn by independent mapmakers during the latest redistricting commission hearings, and also debated whether or not the 2010 map could be used for one more year.
They decided to give the state until April 20 to come up with an official map and to give the state’s highest court time to make its rulings. A status conference was scheduled for April 11.
Jake Zuckerman contributed to this report.
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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