Group of GOP voters sue to force Ohio legislative map fix

February 18, 2022 GMT
FILE - The Ohio Statehouse is shown on Jan. 13, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio. 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. The Ohio Supreme Court has invalidated one congressional map and two sets of legislative maps so far. (Doral Chenoweth/The Columbus Dispatch via AP, File)
FILE - The Ohio Statehouse is shown on Jan. 13, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio. 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. The Ohio Supreme Court has invalidated one congressional map and two sets of legislative maps so far. (Doral Chenoweth/The Columbus Dispatch via AP, File)
FILE - The Ohio Statehouse is shown on Jan. 13, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio. 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. The Ohio Supreme Court has invalidated one congressional map and two sets of legislative maps so far. (Doral Chenoweth/The Columbus Dispatch via AP, File)
FILE - The Ohio Statehouse is shown on Jan. 13, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio. 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. The Ohio Supreme Court has invalidated one congressional map and two sets of legislative maps so far. (Doral Chenoweth/The Columbus Dispatch via AP, File)
FILE - The Ohio Statehouse is shown on Jan. 13, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio. 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. The Ohio Supreme Court has invalidated one congressional map and two sets of legislative maps so far. (Doral Chenoweth/The Columbus Dispatch via AP, File)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The stalemate over redrawing state legislative maps in the face of a court-set deadline is depriving voters of the rights to know their voting districts and interact with candidates ahead of elections, a group of Republican voters said Friday in a federal lawsuit seeking to force the implementation of a new set of maps.

In a separate complaint, three groups who previously sued over the map-making process on Friday asked the Ohio Supreme Court to force the Republican-dominated Ohio Redistricting Commission to explain why it declared an impasse a day earlier.

The federal lawsuit was filed one day after Republicans on the Redistricting Commission stopped work without a solution, saying they saw no path forward that would both comply with orders from the state Supreme Court and meet state Constitutional requirements.

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The lawsuit requested that a three-judge panel force the implementation of House and Senate maps approved Jan. 22. The Ohio Supreme Court rejected those maps earlier this month, saying they remained gerrymandered in favor of Republicans.

Unnecessary uncertainty about the 2022 election harms candidates’ abilities to run for office, the lawsuit said. The uncertainty also restricts voters “ability to assess candidate positions and qualifications, advocate for candidates, and associate with like-minded voters,” according to the lawsuit.

Maps drawn by Democrats that their designers said were constitutional went down to defeat Thursday in a party-line vote shortly before the deadlock was declared. The Democratic maps would have delivered approximately 45% of legislative seats to their party and 54% to the GOP, which roughly matches Ohio’s political breakdown.

“Unfortunately, as a practical matter, it would appear — at least at this point — that this body is at an impasse,” said Secretary of State Frank LaRose, one of five Republicans on the commission.

The stalemate raises questions for the fate of Ohio’s primary, still scheduled for May 3. LaRose has said the state is now precariously close to violating federal and state laws for carrying out the election.

LaRose and other Republicans said the party’s expert mapmakers simply could not find a way to draw constitutional maps that met all the Ohio Supreme Court’s requirements.

State Sen. Vernon Sykes, a Democrat and Redistricting Commission co-chair, criticized Republicans for what he said was a dereliction of duty as the state’s ruling party.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, a commission member, said Thursday it was a mistake to declare an impasse.

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The League of Women Voters, one of three groups who filed with the state Supreme Court on Friday, made note of DeWine’s comment in its complaint.

“The Commission made no apparent effort whatsoever to adopt any plan, and did so without providing any explanation for its noncompliance with the Court’s order,” the organization said, referring to the Supreme Court’s Feb. 7 directive to the commission to try again.

“This blatant disregard of this Court’s mandate requires an immediate explanation,” the League said.

In an interview, League director Jen Miller criticized the federal lawsuit.

“The Ohio Supreme Court has jurisdiction over the drawing of Ohio General Assembly maps,” Miller said. ”There’s no role for the federal court here.”