COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The Ohio Redistricting Commission has given itself a tight deadline to enact new state legislative maps for 2024.
The bipartisan commission, meant to convene every decade to redraw state district lines in accordance with the updated U.S. Census, must adopt new Ohio House and Senate maps to replace the current ones ruled unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court. Slated to meet for the first time in 2023 on Wednesday, the commission has weeks – or days, depending on who you ask – to submit new maps to county boards of elections.
Why is the commission meeting?
After a tumultuous redistricting cycle spanning months and courts, Ohioans cast their primary ballots last August using maps ruled unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court for their “undue” favoring of Republican candidates. Unlike the U.S. Constitution, the Ohio Constitution forbids gerrymandering, or the drawing of district lines to cement a political party’s advantage.
The seven-member commission, made up of elected officials and a Republican majority, drew multiple maps that the state’s highest court rejected as gerrymandered. With the commission at an impasse, last May a federal panel of judges ordered the postponement of the primaries to August, using the most recently rejected maps. The panel ordered the commission to redraw the maps after the 2022 general election.
Wednesday will be the commission’s first meeting of the year. According to the meeting agenda, Gov. Mike DeWine will officially reconstitute the commission and enter members into the record before the meeting is “turned over” to commission co-chairpersons.
When is the commission’s deadline?
Upon DeWine’s announcement in late August that he would reconstitute the commission, Ohio Secretary of State and fellow commission member Frank LaRose said in a letter to other commissioners that, per his estimates, the commission had until Sept. 22 to adopt a new map.
The 11-day turnaround recommended by LaRose factors in time for the General Assembly to craft legal descriptions of the House and Senate maps, as well as time for county elections boards to reprogram voter registration systems using the new district lines. Because candidates who wish to appear on 2024 ballots must file petitions by Dec. 20, LaRose said maps must be completed by Nov. 20 to give candidates 30 days to move districts.
LaRose’s timeline also factors in “the possibility of litigation.”
“While I hope the Commission can approve a district plan that avoids litigation, the recent history of this process shows chaos and delay are commonly used tactics,” LaRose wrote. “I suspect that will continue to be the interest of some who now seek to both delay Ohio’s March Presidential Primary Election and enact a new constitutional amendment further reforming the redistricting process.”
To meet LaRose’s deadline, the commission has 11 days to hold at least three meetings, on separate days, after the introduction of a proposed district plan. The commission must publicly announce those meetings at least 24 hours beforehand, and the public must be given the opportunity to comment on proposed maps.
Maps must also be adopted by both a simple majority and bipartisan group of commissioners. If the commission cannot reach bipartisan consensus, it must redraw the maps after four years.
All challenges to the district plans must be filed with the Ohio Supreme Court. The court may reject maps but cannot instruct the commission to redraw maps in specific ways. The court also cannot order the use of a map not approved by the commission.
What about the congressional map?
The Ohio Redistricting Commission does not normally develop map plans for the U.S. House districts, unless the General Assembly cannot come to an agreement. Like the state legislative maps, Ohio’s congressional maps were ruled unconstitutional multiple times. Faced with the same timeline as the statehouse maps, Ohio was ordered to use a rejected map that would be valid through 2024.
Last October, four Republican lawmakers petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Ohio Supreme Court’s latest congressional map rejection. In their petition, the lawmakers argued the Ohio Supreme Court could not order the redrawing of maps under the novel “independent state legislature theory” that state legislatures were immune from judicial checks on election mapmaking.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the independent state legislature theory in Moore v. Harper and ordered Ohio’s highest court to reevaluate the congressional map in light of the decision.
Ahead of scheduled briefings, original challengers of the congressional map asked the Ohio Supreme Court to dismiss their case, arguing that the costs of a lengthy litigation process outweighed its benefits, since any revised map would need to be replaced after 2024.
“This is the best result under the circumstances for the people of Ohio who deserve certainty about the congressional map that they will be voting under in this cycle, at the very least,” plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss read. The court dismissed the case Sept. 7, meaning the congressional maps will remain in effect.
Will the commission exist after 2024?
The Ohio Redistricting Commission – enshrined into the Ohio Constitution by voters in 2015 – may face an existential threat in November 2024, if a coalition can get its proposed amendment on the ballot.
A proposed constitutional amendment would replace the existing redistricting process with a 15-member commission made of five Republicans, five Democrats and five independent voters. The amendment would bar politicos, including current elected officials, lobbyists and political donors, from serving on the commission.
The group behind the proposal, Citizens Not Politicians, submitted a second petition summary on Sept. 5 after its first attempt was rejected by Attorney General Dave Yost. Yost has until Thursday to forward the summary to the Ohio Ballot Board or send the coalition back to the drawing board.