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All eyes on the Ohio Supreme Court as it looks at the fourth set of legislative maps

ohio_supreme_court_main_courtroom.jpg
Statehouse News Bureau
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This set of maps is tweaked versions of the maps the court earlier ruled unconstitutional.

Two new legislative maps have been adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission. And they aren’t the ones outside mapmakers have been drawing for days. Instead, the majority of Republicans on the commission approved a tweaked version of earlier maps ruled unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Yesterday afternoon, Gov. Mike DeWine told reporters the commission should pass maps by the court's midnight deadline.

“The court order says we are supposed to approve a map. The court order does not provide for a continuance of that time. So the goal has to still be to get a map,” DeWine said.

Ohio Redistricting Commission 3-27-22.jpg
Karen Kasler
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Statehouse News Bureau
The five Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission - Gov. Mike DeWine, Auditor Keith Faber, Senate President Matt Huffman, Speaker Bob Cupp and Secretary of State Frank LaRose - look at draft maps before the Commission's meeting on Sunday, March 27, 2022.

The way Republican House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) sees it, the commission ran out of time so it had to make changes to maps it already had.

“We decided to amend one that the commission was already familiar with since it passed it a month ago to be able to timely meet the court’s order. They were very explicit about no extensions for time and they were very explicit about wanting it done on time," Cupp said.

Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima)
Daniel Konik
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Statehouse News Bureau
Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima)

Republicans on the commission had questioned the process being used by the outside mapmakers during their four days of drawing maps for Ohio's House and Senate districts anyway.

On Saturday, Republican Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) told mapmakers they should put addresses of current lawmakers on working maps for consideration in future iterations. That didn't happen. But Democratic Minority Leader Allison Russo was quick to point out incumbency was not a factor that the state's high court said should be considered when drawing the lines.

Ohio House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington)
Daniel Konik
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Statehouse News Bureau
Ohio House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington)

The process being used by the mapmakers to make constitutional maps had been playing out for five days, in public on a live view camera, at the Statehouse – at a cost of nearly $100,000 for both of them. House Minority Leader Allison Russo said she wanted the commission to use those maps.

“It was disappointing to see them not even consider or discuss the independent mapmaker’s work. Also, I will just point out that it was an expense to taxpayers to go through that and bring those individuals in so you know everything about it was disappointing and I think completely undermined the process and democracy,” Russo said.

By the time the commission voted on the maps late last night, some of the people who had been watching the process play out in real life had gathered in the hearing room. And when the motion was made last night to adopt the revised Republican-backed maps, several of them shouted out their opposition. They yelled out "No, no, no, no, shame on you, cheater" as the vote was being taken. Democratic Committee Co-Chair Vernon Sykes asked the crowd to quiet down. They did. Yet minutes later, some of them were asked to leave by the Ohio State Highway Patrol officers who guard the Statehouse.

Ohio State Highway Patrol asks audience members at the Ohio Redistricting Committee meeting to leave the hearing room
Katy Shanahan
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All on the Line
Ohio State Highway Patrol asks audience members at the Ohio Redistricting Committee meeting to leave the hearing room

In the end, the outside mapmakers produced some House and Senate district maps before the midnight deadline set by the court but by that time, Republicans on the committee said there were just too many questions about them. Cupp raised concerns about compactness and cited areas where he said the mapmaker's maps didn't conform with the constitutionally mandated requirement.

Redistricting reform backers like Katy Shanahan with All on the Line said it was “another gutted blow” and adds those should have been used.

“We just lit $49,000 of taxpayer-funded money for those independent mappers on fire because, at the last minute, Republicans had yet another set of maps that they had drawn behind closed doors,” Shanahan said.

Now the question is what the Ohio Supreme Court will do. It could reject the maps passed last night or even retain the right to hold commission members in contempt of court. In the meantime, redistricting reformists say they are talking about waging yet another ballot issue to change the process. But the May primary will go forward with congressional districts. The court has set some dates but not courtroom arguments on challenges to the second attempt at a 15-district map that was approved on March 2. That means that the second map will be used through 2022.

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