DUBLIN, OH — MAY 03: A voter at the ballot maker machine during the Ohio primary election, May 3, 2022, at the Noor Islamic Cultural Center, Dublin, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes)

BY: SUSAN TEBBEN – Ohio Capital Journal

The Ohio Redistricting Commission Thursday voted to resubmit maps to the Ohio Supreme Court that the court has already rejected as illegal and unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.

The commission once again passed its third map 4-3 along party lines, with the exception of Republican Auditor Keith Faber, who said he voted no for the same reasons he voted against the map originally, claiming favoritism for Democrats.

Republicans voting for the maps were Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, state Sen. Rob McColley and state Rep. Jeff LaRe (sitting in for Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Bob Cupp respectively).

With a U.S. District Court promising to order the third set of maps to be put in place for the 2022 election, the commissioners saw fit to push those maps back into play, despite not one but two rejections by the state’s highest court.

Indicating the action that was forthcoming from the commission, LaRose read a two-page statement he said explained the “logistical realities” of administering an Aug. 2 primary.

He said the third map is already programmed in county boards of elections systems, which was done at his order, and he said he “would not instruct the boards to deprogram Map 3 before May 28, risking that the new map could be invalidated with no immediate options to administer a primary election.”

“Therefore, Map 3 is the only viable option to effectively administer a primary election on Aug. 2, 2022,” LaRose told the commission on Thursday.

In pushing for passage of the maps, McColley said these maps would be “only for use in the 2022 election.”

 State Rep. Jeff LaRe and state Sen. Vernon Sykes talk during Thursday’s meeting of the Ohio Redistricting Commission.
(Photo: Susan Tebben, OCJ)

The constitutional amendment overhauling redistricting processes in the state spelled out the commission’s ability to pass partisan four-year maps or bipartisan 10-year maps. It does not specify a two-year option, which critics say spells trouble in the supreme court battle.

“We will continue to look at our legal options, and possibly this would only be a two-year map and we will work to get better maps in the future,” said Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. “But the redistricting commission can’t decide to adopt a two-year map.”

The Ohio Supreme Court rejected the maps on March 16 for the same reason it rejected all other maps: partisan favoritism.

“Substantial and compelling evidence shows beyond a reasonable doubt that the main goal of the individuals who drafted the second revised plan was to favor the Republican Party and disfavor the Democratic Party,” the majority wrote in their opinion on those maps.

Court justices also rejected the maps after they were slightly changed by GOP mapmakers and submitted as the fourth map from the Ohio Redistricting Commission. Huffman introduced revised Map 3 on March 28, after he said it became clear the independent mapmakers maps were not going to be completed on time.

On Thursday, the Democratic members of the commission, seemingly building up arguments against being held in contempt by the Ohio Supreme Court, introduced changes to a proposed map drawn by independent mapmakers in late March. That map had previously been dismissed by Republican members of the commission who claimed it unduly favored Democrats and didn’t address all the constitutional and court-ordered changes required of new state House and Senate maps.

House Minority Leader Allison Russo brought up the maps, as she did in a letter earlier Thursday, asking for proposed amendments to the map by Thursday afternoon.

She told the commissioners those items had been identified and addressed prior to Thursday night’s meeting. No other commission members submitted amendments, she said.

But Republican commissioners were quick to express their dissatisfaction with these maps during the meeting, even as revised.

McColley referenced an affidavit by independent mapmaker Dr. Douglas Johnson, saying Johnson acknowledged the maps were not done when he and Dr. Michael McDonald left their posts on March 28, having had their plan dismissed by the commission.

Russo pushed back on the assertion, saying the maps were finished, but were only “double-checked” after completion.

“To be clear, this map is finished,” Russo said.

The Johnson/McDonald map was turned down again by the ORC on Thursday, with a party-line 5-2 vote.

Russo read a statement at the end of the night, calling the latest journey to Map 3 “a bad-faith effort to punt (Republican) responsibility to another entity,” meaning the federal court.

“The events that led us back here were not committed through incompetence,” Russo read from the statement. “We are here purposefully.”

LaRose and DeWine were missing from the commission meeting after a recess following the vote to adopt the third map. Spokespersons said they had other commitments, and because the commission did not have any other voting items, they chose to leave before the meeting adjourned, and before media could ask any questions.

DeWine’s spokesperson, Dan Tierney, said it was “simply impossible to adopt any map or resubmit any map that an election could be run on August 2.”

Asked why the commission didn’t meet earlier than two days before the deadline, Tierney said there were “issues coming to compromise.”

The maps now go to the Ohio Supreme Court for consideration and court challenges, which seem likely.

As the commission’s newest co-chair, LaRe said with a map passed to cover only the next two-years, the commission still needs to continue its work.

“We’re only talking about the ’22 election, so there’s more work for the commission to do,” LaRe said. “We’ve got to look at the next election cycle, so we’re not done yet.”

He did not give a timeline on when the commission will begin working on the next election.

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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