There has been a change in who the GOP players are now sitting on the Ohio Redistricting Commission. Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp and Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman have resigned from the commission. They have been replaced by state Representative Jeff LaRe (R-Violet Twp) as commission co-chair and state Senator Rob McColley (R-Napoleon). Little else has changed.
Despite the two new republican commission members, the commission voted 4-3 – Republicans Governor Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, LaRe and McColley voting as a block and Republican Auditor Keith Faber voting with the two Democratic members – to resubmit the Third Plan that the Ohio Supreme Court had already rejected as unconstitutional, illegal partisan gerrymandering – twice.
With the new commission members, however, the GOP majority commission has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to rule on a legislative map that has been previously deemed unconstitutional – after it has been used for the 2022 general election. In other words, the republicans want the Ohio Supreme Court to give the go ahead to use unconstitutional maps for the November 2022 general election that the majority of justices had already rejected. LaRe and McColley picked up where Cupp and Huffman left off: New maps would be impossible to implement at this point and using the third plan, even though it was rejected by the court, is more about the urgency of election administration for a second primary by August 2nd than about constitutional maps. McColley stated that the Third Plan would only be used for the 2022 general election. However. The constitutional amendment that overhauled the redistricting process does not allow for a two-year option – it specifies only partisan four-year maps or bipartisan 10-year maps.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose stated in his response to the justices: “The Commission is out of option.” LaRose supports a separate court, the U.S. District Court, to take up its case to intervene where the commission and the Ohio Supreme Court have not. LaRose took a swipe at the General Assembly for its (in)action which he blames as part of the problem which has led the commission to a dead end. To date, the General Assembly has not set an election date for the 2022 General Assembly (both state House and state Senate) primary. Thus, other election deadlines have not been able to be confirmed yet. LaRe and McColley stated in their response that an August 2nd second primary is the only viable election date “unless this Court wants to risk the administration of the 2022 election, confuse the electorate, and drive down turnout.” Really? It seems the republicans have managed to do that and then some already with the first primary held on May 3rd.
Court challengers have, once again, asked the Ohio Supreme Court to hold the commissioners in contempt for their (in)actions in the redistricting process, including violating supreme court orders. The court had ordered the commission to adopt a new set of maps by May 6 suggesting the commission use the work already completed by the commission-hired independent mapmakers. Instead, the commission resubmitted the Third Plan. The challengers also asked that the court appoint a special master – a neutral third party appointed by the court – to lead the map-drawing process and to have the new maps done by the end of this week.
The two Democratic members of the commission, state House Minority Leader Allison Russo and state Senator Dr. Vernon Sykes, introduced changes to a proposed map drawn by the independent mapmakers in late March. The republican majority commission dismissed the maps even though the maps had been revised and voted to resubmit the Third Plan to the court. Thus, Russo and Sykes have asked the court to “discard any sense that the Republican Commissioners will abide this Court’s authority and the Ohio Constitution in the future unless it takes stronger action.”
In the mean time, the federal court deadline of May 28th is on the horizon. As the Ohio Supreme Court reviews the question of contempt of court charges against the commission and the resubmitted Third Plan, the federal court may instituted the unconstitutional Third Plan if Ohio does not implement a set of constitutional maps by May 28th. A ‘gotcha’ moment. Stay tuned.