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Analysis

Back in Court Challenging Ohio’s Unfair Voting Maps

The state supreme court struck down the previous maps, but the replacements still contain partisan gerrymandering in violation of the Ohio Constitution.

Last Updated: February 7, 2022
Published: January 27, 2022
A panel of politicians sits by a large print of a proposed Ohio redistricting map on an easel
Julie Carr Smyth/AP

Update: On Febru­ary 7, the Ohio Supreme Court rejec­ted legis­lat­ive maps that the Ohio Redis­trict­ing Commis­sion had redrawn per the court’s order, find­ing that they viol­ated the state consti­tu­tion’s prohib­i­tions against partisan gerry­man­der­ing.

On Wednes­day, community groups and Ohio voters repres­en­ted by the Bren­nan Center and the law firm Reed Smith asked the Ohio Supreme Court to block newly passed maps for the state general assembly. The Ohio Redis­trict­ing Commis­sion passed these maps this month, just 10 days after the state supreme court struck down an earlier plan for viol­at­ing the Ohio Consti­tu­tion’s prohib­i­tions against partisan gerry­man­der­ing. But instead of going back to the draw­ing board to pass a fair map, the commis­sion is trying to slap some paint on what amounts to a broken found­a­tion.

The peti­tion­ers include the Ohio Organ­iz­ing Collab­or­at­ive, CAIR-Ohio, the Ohio Envir­on­mental Coun­cil, and numer­ous Ohio voters who want fair maps for their communit­ies. They’re asking the Ohio Supreme Court to declare the commis­sion’s maps invalid and order the commis­sion to enact new ones that comply with the Ohio Consti­tu­tion’s partisan fair­ness mandates.

Ohio voters over­whelm­ingly passed a consti­tu­tional amend­ment in 2015 to end Ohio’s long history of partisan gerry­man­der­ing. Yet the commis­sion’s new map flouts the voters’ wishes and ignores clear consti­tu­tional mandates. The result­ing map espe­cially burdens Ohio’s Black and Muslim communit­ies, many of which are concen­trated in gerry­mandered districts.

The facts are clear: the new maps were drawn by Repub­lican map draw­ers and passed on party lines. To purportedly achieve “propor­tion­al­ity” in the Ohio House of Repres­ent­at­ives, as required by the state consti­tu­tion, the commis­sion conver­ted Repub­lican districts into razor-thin Demo­cratic ones while leav­ing Repub­lic­ans in safe seats. All told, 14 Demo­cratic seats are toss-up districts while zero Repub­lican-lean­ing districts fall into the same category.

The result is stark asym­metry in voting power: With 50 percent of the vote, Demo­cratic voters are expec­ted to win about 43 percent of house seats, while Repub­lic­ans would win 57 percent. If there is a 2 percent shift toward Repub­lic­ans in the statewide vote, they can expect to win 71 percent of house seats. The revised senate map fares no better: Repub­lic­ans enjoy a veto-proof super­ma­jor­ity with only 54 percent of the statewide vote. 

Not surpris­ingly, these maps came out of a process that was rife with partisan games­man­ship. The commis­sion used the uncon­sti­tu­tional map as a start­ing point rather than fairer plans that had been submit­ted to it for consid­er­a­tion. It declined to use an inde­pend­ent map drawer, rely­ing instead on the party caucuses. 

The people of Ohio have made it clear that partisan gerry­manders should have no place in the state — and the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed that prin­ciple just this month. We are back in court to ensure that Ohio’s general assembly maps reflect these basic values.