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Voting Rights Roundup: ACLU sues over Ohio GOP's new maps after governor’s startling admission

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25.09.2021

Ohio: The ACLU has filed a lawsuit with Ohio's Supreme Court asking it to strike down the new legislative maps that the Republican majority on the state's bipartisan redistricting commission passed along party lines last week. The plaintiffs argue that the new districts are "extreme partisan gerrymanders" that violate the state constitution and are asking the court to order mapmakers to draw fairer lines instead. This lawsuit is the first of the 2020s redistricting cycle arguing that adopted maps are illegal partisan gerrymanders, but it almost certainly won't be the last.

Initial analyses of the new districts indicate they're heavily tilted toward the GOP and would likely give Republicans in this red-leaning swing state roughly a 62-37 state House majority and 23-10 advantage in the state Senate. That translates to 64% of all seats in the legislature, in a state Donald Trump won with 53% of the vote last year. At this level, the GOP would continue to enjoy the three-fifths supermajorities needed to override gubernatorial vetoes, just as it does now.

Many analysts and reformers thought it wouldn't wind up this way. That's because Ohio voters approved two constitutional amendments in the previous decade—backed by both parties—that were ostensibly designed to make redistricting fairer. The new legislative redistricting amendment prohibits maps that "favor or disfavor a political party" and requires that they "shall correspond closely to the statewide preferences of the voters of Ohio," which Republicans acknowledged was roughly 54% Republican and 46% Democratic.​

​But others, including Daily Kos Elections' Stephen Wolf, have long argued that the measures were in fact a sham intended to head off activists' attempts to pass more vigorous reforms. One of the major flaws under this new setup is that it left mapmaking in the hands of a commission with a majority of Republican officeholders and even gave them a way to pass maps without any Democratic support—which is precisely what they did. The only catch is that partisan maps are good for four years rather than 10, but even that supposed drawback will allow the GOP to fine-tune its gerrymanders after just two elections.

The amendments also left enforcement of the ban on partisan gerrymandering up to the state Supreme Court, which has a 4-3 Republican majority. Democrats managed to flip three seats on the court in 2018 and 2020, likely because races appeared on the ballot without party labels. (Candidates are nominated by the parties.) Wary of losing another seat—and their majority—in 2022, Republican lawmakers threw another obstacle in front of Democrats earlier this year when they passed a law transforming Supreme Court races from nonpartisan affairs to partisan elections. That makes it even less likely that the court will actually police any improper maps.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who serves on the redistricting commission and voted to approve the new maps, even conceded that "this committee could have come up with a bill that was much more clearly constitutional." He added, "I'm sorry that we did not do that"—though of course, he could have voted against the maps but did not.

However, that admission, coupled with the language of the state constitution, led prominent redistricting expert Nicholas Stephanopoulos to argue........

© Daily Kos


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