The Columbus Dispatch

Court to hear arguments over map

Groups say map violates changes OK’D by voters

- Jessie Balmert

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear legal arguments Tuesday about whether a Republican-approved congressio­nal map violates voter-approved changes to curb gerrymande­ring.

In mid-november, Republican lawmakers passed and GOP Gov. Mike Dewine signed into law a map for Ohio’s 15 congressio­nal districts over the objections of Democrats and voting rights advocates.

The map could give Republican­s as much as a 12-3 advantage in a state where Republican­s garner about 54% of the votes in statewide elections.

Two groups filed lawsuits against the map, saying it violated voter-approved changes to the Ohio Constituti­on that prevent lawmakers from passing a plan that “unduly favors or disfavors a political party or its incumbents.” In 2018, nearly 75% of Ohio voters approved changes to limit congressio­nal gerrymande­ring.

Under the enacted map, Republican­s could anticipate winning between 67% and 80% of the seats, according to a complaint filed by the League of Women Voters of Ohio, A. Philip Randolph Institute of Ohio and several voters. “In political science, an advantage of 12 to 25 points is a landslide. It is an ‘undue’ advantage under any definition of the term.”

The map was drawn by a small number of Republican legislativ­e staffers with input from a few GOP lawmakers, according to deposition­s taken as part of the lawsuits.

Republican­s contend that their final product delivers what Ohio voters wanted: more competitiv­e districts.

According to Dave’s Redistrict­ing App, a popular redistrict­ing analysis website, six districts fall between 45% and 55% on a partisan index. Two of those districts – the 9th District that includes Toledo and the 13th District that includes Akron – would be highly competitiv­e.

“There weren’t competitiv­e elections in the last decade, and that’s what we’re trying to rectify,” key mapmaker Ray Dirossi said in his deposition.

But analysis offered by those suing over the map contends that Republican­s drew congressio­nal districts in Ohio’s largest cities to benefit the GOP, turning Democratic areas into competitiv­e or Republican-friendly seats.

Based on where Democrats live, the party should expect a Democratic-leaning seat in Hamilton County, Columbus and the Akron area, attorneys argued in a brief.

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear legal arguments from both sides during a 9 a.m. Tuesday teleconfer­ence. The hearing will be streamed on the Ohio Channel.

Each side will receive 30 minutes to make its case, but justices will interrupt with questions.

As was the case with legislativ­e redistrict­ing, all eyes will be on Chief Justice Maureen O’connor. The Republican justice leads a court of four Republican­s and three Democrats. She is considered a key, independen­t voice on the court.

Don’t expect a decision on the map right away. The justices will issue a written ruling at a later date.

If the map is overturned, Ohio lawmakers will be tasked with correcting all or a portion of it. The deadline for congressio­nal candidates to file is March 4.

Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Akron Beacon Journal, Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch and 18 other affiliated news organizati­ons across Ohio.

The Ohio Senate Republican­s unveiled a proposed congressio­nal district map. It is expected to be approved this week, though it’s unclear whether Democrats will support it.


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