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Analysis: How the GOP turned Ohio's redistricting process upside down

 Voter rights advocates scrutinize the Congressional district map proposed by Republican lawmakers late last year.
Andy Chow
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Voter rights advocates scrutinize the Congressional district map proposed by Republican lawmakers late last year.

Does this seemingly never-ending, insanely convoluted and unnecessarily partisan process of drawing Ohio's new congressional and state legislative districts give you a headache?

It should, if you have been paying any attention whatsoever.

Twice, in 2015 and 2018, Ohio voters went to the polls and overwhelmingly supported constitutional amendments dealing with the process for drawing state legislative and congressional district lines — amendments that were aimed at taking at least some of the partisan politics out of the process.

So far, it's been a massive failure.

Republicans — who have a vise-like grip on the reins of both the Ohio General Assembly and the seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission — have made sure of that.

As of this week, we are up to six sets of congressional and state legislative district maps that have been rejected by a four-member majority of the Ohio Supreme Court, each time because the court majority believes the GOP-submitted maps follow neither the letter nor the spirit of the state constitution.

Those same Statehouse Republicans — which includes the legislative leadership and statewide elected officials like Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose — have thumbed their noses at the court repeatedly and appear be on the verge of doing so again.

What's going on here?

Well, pop a couple of your favorite over-the-counter headache pills and follow along as we try to unpack this mess.

What's the latest?

On Tuesday, the four-member majority of the Ohio Supreme Court — Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, a Republican, and the three Democratic justices - rejected the Republicans' congressional district map, saying it is illegally gerrymandered to favor Republicans.

The justices said that the map packs Democratic voters "into a few dense Democratic-leaning districts, thereby increasing the Republican vote share of the remaining districts. As a result, districts that would otherwise be strongly Democratic-leaning are now competitive or Republican-leaning."

Hamilton and Warren counties, we're looking at you!

 Congressional map adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission on March 2, 2022 by a 5 to 2 vote.
Ohio Redistricting Commission
/
Courtesy
Congressional map adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission on March 2, 2022 by a 5 to 2 vote.

One of the examples the court uses is the 1st Congressional District, which includes all of the city of Cincinnati and all of Warren County. It is a more Democratic-leaning district for long-time Republican incumbent Steve Chabot than it was in the past, but it could still be considered a toss-up.

Same goes for the Northwest Ohio 9th District now represented by Dem. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo, the longest-serving Ohio Democrat in the House. Her district went from "safe Democrat" to "toss-up."

Under the map rejected Tuesday, Ohio could have as few as two safely Democratic seats out of a 15-member delegation.

There's no proportionality standard in the 2018 constitutional amendment for congressional districts, but common sense says two of 15 is just unfair. Even under the 2011 redistricting plan, the Democrats were assured twice as many seats. This map would be a step backward.

So what does the court want the Republicans to do?

The court majority is giving Republicans in the legislature 30 days to submit a new map — one that would go into effect in the 2024 election. If the legislature doesn't do that, the Republican-controlled Ohio Redistricting Commission will be given 30 days to come up with a new map.

For this year's congressional elections in Ohio, the Ohio Supreme Court allowed the state to go ahead and use a previously rejected map for the 2022 primary election (as well as the general election in November). They had no choice. It was getting too close to the May 3 primary and there had been technical legal problems with the timing of objections filed by voting rights group.

Not an ideal situation, but the court had no choice.

How will the Republicans respond to the court order?

My guess is they won't.

I would not be surprised in the least if the Republicans in the legislature and on the redistricting commission simply ignore the court order.

Pretend it doesn't exist.

Here’s how they could pull that off, easy peasy:

The Ohio legislature is not going to be in session until after the November election. By that time, 15 members of the U.S. House from Ohio will have been duly elected using a map that was ruled unconstitutional earlier this year.

And the Ohio Supreme Court will have changed in the November election as well.

O'Connor, considered a rogue judge by the GOP leadership in Columbus, can't run for re-election because of Ohio's judicial age limits law.

Ohio Channel /
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Two justices — Republican Sharon Kennedy of Butler County and Democrat Jennifer Brunner of Columbus — are facing each other for Chief Justice.

Kennedy has been a "no" vote when it comes to striking down proposed legislative maps; Brunner, of course, was part of the majority.

Two other Republicans — Pat DeWine, son of the governor who is a member of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, and Patrick Fischer, a former state appeals court judge in Hamilton County -are up for re-election.

If Brunner is elected chief justice, her seat on the court would be open and Gov. Mike DeWine could appoint her replacement.

Is there any chance DeWine would pick somebody who would give the GOP trouble on legislative map-making?

Yes. When donkeys fly.

via GIPHY

The fix is in. All the Statehouse Republicans have to do is keep kicking the can down the road for a few more months and they will have achieved their goal.

They will have scammed the system and beat the law. They will get everything they want and more. They will have elected an Ohio Supreme Court more to their liking.

The only people now who could stop them are the voters. But only if they are paying attention and don't behave like automatons.

Elections truly do have consequences.

Next week: Why are we having an August 2 primary election to choose state legislative candidates?
Copyright 2022 91.7 WVXU. To see more, visit 91.7 WVXU.

Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.