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Lawsuit Filed Over Ohio Legislative Maps That Preserve Republican Supermajorities

 Ohio Redistricting Commission meets for last public hearing before deadline on maps.
Dan Konik
/
Ohio Public Radio
Ohio Redistricting Commission meets for last public hearing before deadline on maps.

As expected, a lawsuit has been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Ohio against the new four-year Ohio House and Senate district maps, which experts have said are gerrymandered to preserve Republican supermajorities in both chambers.

The lawsuit filed with the Ohio Supreme Court argues the map will lock in 67% of the House seats and nearly 70% of Senate districts for Republicans for the next four years.

It also alleges the Republicans’ “brazen manipulation of district lines” disregards the party split of Ohio voters in the last decade of elections and defies the 2015 constitutional amendment that sought to end extreme partisan gerrymandering.

The Ohio Redistricting Commission approved the maps along party lines last week. The new maps would favor Republicans in 62 House districts and Democrats in 37 House districts. In the Senate, Republicans are likely to win 23 out of 33 seats, leaving 10 districts favorable to Democrats.

The constitutional amendment states that "[t]he statewide proportion of districts whose voters, based on statewide state and federal partisan general election results during the last ten years, favor each political party shall correspond closely to the statewide preferences of the voters of Ohio."

in the 2020 election, 53% of voters cast ballots for former President Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, while 45% voted for Democrat and current President Joe Biden.

Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), who introduced the maps, issued a statement after the redistricting commission's vote on the constitutionality of the maps, which said Republicans could award themselves up to 81% of seats in the Statehouse based on the last 10 years of statewide voting. He said the party breakdown on the final maps "corresponds closely to the statewide preferences of the voters of Ohio."

In a commentary published in several Ohio newspapers, Huffman wrote that "special interest groups tried very hard to undermine the process by pressuring members to accept so-called 'representational fairness.' This is simply the basic definition of gerrymandering, as these groups insist on telling Ohio voters what is fair."

ACLU attorney Freda Levenson said the goal isn’t maps gerrymandered for Democrats, but they will likely win more seats if the lawsuit is successful.

“But that would be to achieve fairness, not to achieve and unfair advantage. It would be to undo an unfair advantage that was obtained the people drawing the map drew the map to favor themselves," Levenson said.

This year was the first for the redistricting commission, which was created by a 2015 constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by voters to change the redistricting process. Another amendment was adopted by voters in 2018 to change the way the Congressional map is created.

The current maps were also drawn by Republicans on the state apportionment board in 2011. Since then, there have never been fewer than 59 Republicans in the House, and the GOP caucus in the Senate has increased from 23 to 25.

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear the case. A decision would have to happen by January so the maps could be redrawn before the candidate filing deadline in February.

It's worth noting that the court upheld the current maps when they were challenged in 2011. But Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor voted to reject them. There was one Democrat on the Court in 2011. Now there are three.

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.