COLUMBUS, Ohio — Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission declared defeat in their attempts to redraw state legislative maps in the face of a court-set deadline Thursday. They said they saw no path forward that would both comply with orders from the state’s high court and meet the state’s Constitution.
The two Democrats on the seven-member Redistricting Commission rejected the GOP line of argument, after presenting a version of Ohio House and Senate maps that their mapmakers said were constitutional. The maps went down to defeat, however, in a party-line vote shortly before the deadlock was declared.
“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.
As Ohio continues to wade through a new redistricting process for the first time, it was unclear where Thursday’s decision not to act would leave the three separate lawsuits filed against the original maps by voting-rights and Democratic groups, including the legal arm of former Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee.
The impasse also raised 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 couldn’t find a way to draw constitutional maps that met all the Ohio Supreme Court’s requirements.
Democratic co-chair Sen. Vernon Sykes, a 30-year veteran of the Legislature, maligned Republicans for what he said was a dereliction of duty as the state’s ruling party.
“The majority has the responsibility and the authority to rule, to decide. They’ve got the numbers,” Sykes said. “But in spite of the fact that you have supermajorities in the House and Senate, all the statewides (offices), the congressional delegation, this commission and the Ohio Supreme Court, you’ve been unable and unwilling to comply with our highest directive, and that is to comply with the constitution.”
Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, a member of the commission, said, “We have an obligation under law to give them a third map. ... I think it is a mistake for this commission to stop and to basically say that we’re at an impasse. I don’t think that that is an option that the law gives us.”
Yet no additional maps were on the table as the panel adjourned.
House Democratic Leader Allison Russo said, “This is a direct assault on our democracy and Ohio voters, and if we do not respect the legitimacy of the courts, then we are disrespecting the rule of law.”
Russo led the fight earlier in the afternoon for her party’s proposed district lines, insisting in the face of vigorous questioning that they met all provisions of the Ohio Constitution.
The plan would have delivered approximately 45% of legislative seats to their party and 54% to the GOP, which roughly matches Ohio’s political breakdown. It was rejected along party lines.
Republican Senate President Matt Huffman argued that drawing individual districts to favor or disfavor one party is in itself gerrymandering. He pressed Russo on the fact the Democrats’ latest maps would have displaced more than a dozen sitting Republican lawmakers.
“If, comprehensively, this district plan favors or disfavors a political party, it is unconstitutional,” he said. Russo replied that “some of the unfairly favored members will lose their seats” when a state is undoing a gerrymander.
Huffman also asserted that Democrats’ map violated federal law through “racial gerrymandering,” a practice where Black voters are targets and drawn intentionally into districts. Sykes, an Akron Democrat who is Black, said Democrats did not take race into consideration.