EXPLAINER: Where do things stand with Ohio’s political maps?
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Maps of Ohio’s political districts — boundaries used to determine who represents Ohioans in Washington and Columbus for up to 10 years — still aren’t final, with the May 3 primary now less than three months away.
Amid a confusing jumble of court rulings, political jockeying and shifting deadlines, here’s a look at where things stand:
WHAT’S TAKING SO LONG?
Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature and on the bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission can’t agree on how the maps should look. Political control at the Statehouse in Columbus and in Washington could be at stake.
Maps so far have been drawn by majority Republicans and have failed to get a single Democratic vote. Democrats want more seats favorable to their party — and they say constitutional amendments approved by Ohio voters demand it. Republicans who control the process say they have tried their best. The Ohio Supreme Court has so far ruled their work unconstitutional.
WHY SO MANY MAPS?
There are two processes moving simultaneously. The first involves maps of Statehouse legislative lines — that is, of Ohio House and Ohio Senate districts. The second involves Ohio’s congressional map — that is, lines for electing representatives to the U.S. House. Ohio will have 15 seats in Congress for this next decade, after losing one due to lagging population growth recorded in the 2020 Census.
WHAT COMES NEXT?
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled the legislative maps unconstitutional in January, the Redistricting Commission sent over a redrawn version, and that was declared unconstitutional, too. While the second round of maps came closer to meeting Ohio’s 54% Republican-46% Democratic mix, the court said it didn’t go far enough. The panel now has until Feb. 17 to pass a third set of maps.
Meanwhile, the Republican-dominated state Legislature passed the congressional map in November. The high court declared it unconstitutional in January, allowing lawmakers 30 days to fix it, and, if they failed, giving the Redistricting Commission another 30 days. Legislative leaders said this week that they won’t be able to meet their 30-day deadline, which would have fallen on Sunday. There aren’t enough Democratic votes to pass the bill as an emergency, they said, pushing any bill’s effective date past the primary.
That means the Redistricting Commission also must handle drawing the congressional map, with a deadline of mid-March.
WON’T ALL THIS MESS UP THE 2022 ELECTION?
Potentially. That has legislators and election officials scrambling to figure out what to do.
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose had already received permission from the Legislature to adjust some deadlines faced by candidates and county boards of elections. The cutoff for legislative and Senate contenders to declare their candidacies has already passed, for example. The deadline for U.S. House candidates was moved to March 4.
Lawmakers also have made accommodations that will allow candidates drawn out of one district to continue running in the new one they reside in.
COULD THE PRIMARY BE MOVED?
Yes. It happened as recently as 2020. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s health director called off Ohio’s presidential primary that March just hours before polls were set to open. Democrats sued when LaRose set the new date for that June, claiming that was the Legislature’s job. Lawmakers set a new, almost exclusively mail-in primary for that April.
This week, Republican Senate President Matt Huffman even raised the possibility that Ohio may need to hold two separate primaries: one for local, U.S. Senate and statewide offices unaffected by the feud — governor, attorney general, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and Ohio Supreme Court — and a separate primary for Statehouse and congressional races awaiting finalized maps.
Changing the date of a primary can be cumbersome, confusing and expensive, though — and holding two could be more so. But the GOP isn’t going to be particularly eager to extend the bickering in its crowded and raucous primary for an open U.S. Senate seat by moving all races to a later date.