COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s Republican-drawn congressional map was rejected by the state’s high court Friday, giving hope to national Democrats who had argued it unfairly delivered several potentially competitive seats in this year’s critical midterm elections to Republicans.
In the 4-3 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court returned the map to the Ohio General Assembly, where Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers, and then to the powerful Ohio Redistricting Commission. The two bodies have a combined 60 days to draw new lines that comply with a 2018 constitutional amendment against gerrymandering.
The commission was already in the process of reconstituting so it can redraw GOP-drawn legislative maps the court also rejected this week as gerrymandered. That decision gave the panel 10 days to comply.
With Feb. 2 and March 4 looming as the filing dates for legislative and congressional candidates, respectively, the decisions have raised questions of whether the state’s May 3 primary may have to be extended.
Ohio Republican Party Chair Bob Paduchik called the situation a mess, criticizing the Ohio Supreme Court for giving the commission less than two weeks to come up with new legislative maps.
“That’s a lot to dump on a commission with a very short period of time,” he said during a forum at the City Club of Cleveland on Friday. “It’s hard to say what’s going to happen.”
Justices chastised Republicans in both decisions for flouting the voters’ wishes and the Constitution and directed them to move with haste.
Writing for the majority, Justice Michael Donnelly wrote, ”(T)he evidence in these cases makes clear beyond all doubt that the General Assembly did not heed the clarion call sent by Ohio voters to stop political gerrymandering.”
Donnelly and the court’s other two Democrats were joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a moderate Republican set to depart the court due to age limits at the end of the year.
The court’s three other Republicans — including Justice Pat DeWine, son of Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, a named plaintiff in the cases — raised their objections in an unprecedented “joint dissent” that failed to identify its author. The majority called the format “unusual and inexplicable.”
In it, the three said it was unclear how it should be determined that a map “unduly favors” one party over another.
“When the majority says that the plan unduly favors the Republican Party, what it means is that the plan unduly favors the Republican Party as compared to the results that would be obtained if we followed a system of proportional representation,” the dissent said.
They explained that the U.S. has never adopted a system that requires congressional seats to be proportionally distributed to match the popular vote, nor does Ohio’s Constitution require it.
In her separate opinion, O’Connor said voting-rights and Democratic groups that challenge the maps never argued strict proportionality was required.
“The dissenting opinion’s dismissive characterization of all the metrics used by petitioners’ experts as simply being measures of ‘proportional representation’ is sleight of hand,” she wrote. “No magician’s trick can hide what the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates: the map statistically presents such a partisan advantage that it unduly favors the Republican Party.”
Friday’s decision affects separate lawsuits brought by the National Democratic Redistricting Commission’s legal arm, as well as the Ohio offices of the League of Women Voters and the A. Philip Randolph Institute. The groups calculated that either 12 or 13 of the map’s 15 districts favor Republicans, despite the GOP garnering only about 54% of votes in statewide races over the past decade.
Republicans had defended the map — which was pushed through the approval process in a flurry — as fair, constitutional and “highly competitive.”
Voting rights advocates and Democrats praised the court’s ruling, their second victory this week.
“The manipulation of districts is the manipulation of elections and voters have had enough,” said Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, a plaintiff. “We expect legislative leaders to learn from their mistakes and finally listen to the people’s call for fair maps.”
Ohio and other states were required to redraw their congressional maps to reflect results of the 2020 census, under which Ohio lost one of its current 16 districts due to lagging population.
Associated Press writer John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, contributed to this report.
Sponsor: Ohio voting law overhaul won’t be ready for 2022
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A significant rewrite of Ohio’s election lawsthat includes new restrictions on voting and some added conveniences long supported by voting rights advocates will not be ready for 2022 elections, its sponsor says.
Republican state Rep. Bill Seitz, the bill’s sponsor, said concerns raised by Ohio Republican Party Chair Bob Paduchik about one of those conveniences — a way to request absentee ballots online — as among hold-ups to the bill.
“The Ohio Republican Party, through Mr. Paduchik, has expressed some concerns about the online absent-ballot application process proposed in my election bill,” Seitz said, “and, specifically, around the level of security that will accompany those online applications.”
Paduchik took the helm of the party in February after serving as senior adviser to former President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. He declined to comment on the voting bill through a spokesperson.
Seitz said Secretary of State Frank LaRose “has attempted to answer his concerns, but I’m not sure that those have been alleviated.” As a result, the urgency attached to passing the bill in 2021 no longer exists, the representative said, so it isn’t on tap to be considered again now until after the May primary.
LaRose, a Republican who has parted with those in his party who falsely assert the 2020 election was stolen, has embraced key elements of Seitz’s bill that mirror proposals he has been pushing himself, in some cases for years.
Those include the online absentee ballot request system, which LaRose first introduced as a state senator in 2013. Then-Secretary of State Jon Husted, a fellow Republican who is now lieutenant governor, also backed the proposal at the time. Both face statewide elections this year.
It’s a system already in place in 18 states, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures.
Spokesperson Rob Nichols said LaRose “looks forward to continuing a dialogue with the Legislature” about priorities of his contained in Seitz’s bill. He appeared to concur with Seitz that time is out for 2022.
“As that dialogue continues, an important point to consider is the implementation date of those changes to ensure Ohio voters have full confidence in the improvements,” said Nichols.
Since 2012, Ohio has mailed absentee ballot request forms to registered voters in every even-year general election, at a cost of around $1.25 million. The state already allows overseas and military voters to request them online. The forms are verified by bipartisan teams of county election officials before a ballot is mailed to the voter.
In odd-numbered years, primaries or if a voter is newly registered, those wanting to vote by mail must pick up a ballot application, call and ask for one to be mailed or print one off the internet and mail or hand-deliver it back to their local board.
In a 2019 investigation, The Associated Press found that more than 6,500 absentee ballot applications were rejected for the 2018 general election because of missing or mismatched signatures, delaying or stymying individuals’ efforts to vote.
That signature requirement is a largely overlooked and spottily tracked step in Ohio’s voting process, which has shifted increasingly to mail-in ballots since early, no-fault absentee voting was instituted in 2005.
Seitz’s bill emerged last year as a number of Republican-led states proposed significant rewrites of state election laws following the 2020 election made divisive by Trump’s unsupported claims of fraud. President Joe Biden, who won that election, traveled this week to Georgia, where the first of those laws was passed, to call for action on a new national voting rights law.
Ohio was not one of the states targeted by Trump. He defeated Biden handily in the state, in an election that audits showed was counted to near perfection, even by Ohio’s nationally recognized high standards.
Seitz has said the sweeping overhaul he has proposed is not intended to suppress voters, but is a thoughtful effort to incorporate changes long sought by Democrats, Republicans, the state’s bipartisan election officials’ association and voter advocates.