Ohio Supreme Court rejects third set of Ohio House, Senate maps

FILE—Freda Levenson, ACLU of Ohio legal director, appears before the Ohio Supreme Court in Columbus, Ohio, during oral arguments in a constitutional challenge to new legislative district maps in this file photo from Dec. 8, 2021.  Democrats bolstered by a high court victory earlier this month appeared to be digging in their heels Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, against another round of gerrymandered legislative maps in Ohio. The state's bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission repeatedly recessed for long stretches ahead of a midnight deadline set by its members to hash out a compromise that satisfies members of both parties. (AP Photo/Julie Carr Smyth, File)

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FILE—Freda Levenson, ACLU of Ohio legal director, appears before the Ohio Supreme Court in Columbus, Ohio, during oral arguments in a constitutional challenge to new legislative district maps in this file photo from Dec. 8, 2021. Democrats bolstered by a high court victory earlier this month appeared to be digging in their heels Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, against another round of gerrymandered legislative maps in Ohio. The state's bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission repeatedly recessed for long stretches ahead of a midnight deadline set by its members to hash out a compromise that satisfies members of both parties. (AP Photo/Julie Carr Smyth, File)

In a 4-3 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court has announced that it found the third set of Ohio House and Senate district maps unconstitutional.

The court ordered the Ohio Redistricting Commission to reconvene and file new maps with the secretary of state by March 28, and with the court by 9 a.m. on March 29.

The court further order the entire commission must draft the maps rather than adopt maps drafted by Republican leaders in the Ohio House and Senate without input from the Democratic members of the commission.

In its slip opinion, the court majority took issue with Republican control of the mapmaking process to the exclusion of the Democratic members, in particular the use of two map-drawers employed by the Republican caucus.

Instead, it said that the commission “should retain an independent map drawer—who answers to all commission members, not only to the Republican legislative leaders—to draft a plan through a transparent process.”

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It also said that the “nearly exclusive control over the first two rounds of map drawing was strong evidence of partisan intent” to favor Republicans in the drawing of districts.

It also pointed to the number of “toss-up” districts labeled Democrat-leaning, in which the Democratic vote share was between 50% and 52%. It pointed out that there are no Republican-leaning districts in either map where Republican vote share was within that range, only two Republican-leaning House districts with a share less than 55% and no Republican-leaning Senate districts with a share less than 54%.

“The result,” it wrote, “is that the 54 percent seat share for Republicans is a floor while the 46 percent share for Democrats is a ceiling.”

This latest version was approved on March 2 in a 5-2 party-line vote with no Democratic support. None of the approved maps so far have received support from the two Democratic members of the commission.

The Ohio Supreme Court has thrown out both U.S. House maps and Ohio House and Senate maps as unfairly favoring the Republican Party, which dominates the General Assembly.

Military absentee voting for the May 3 election was scheduled to begin March 18 and early voting was scheduled to begin April 5.

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It is unclear how this decision will affect the election. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose previously ordered local boards of elections to begin preparations using the third, now rejected maps, and requested a waiver from the U.S. Department of Defense seeking more time to prepare and deliver ballots to military voters and their families overseas.

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