State Supreme Court Rejects GOP Gerrymandering Attempt

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The Ohio state Supreme Court has once again rejected state legislative district maps that the Ohio Redistricting Commission put forward, marking the third instance that the court has made such a rejection of lines for these districts, which forces those involved in the process to return to the metaphorical drawing board for the fourth time. The court has ordered the commission to finalize a new set of state legislative district lines — including state House and state Senate districts — by March 28. As explained this week by The Columbus Dispatch, the court’s majority in this case “made a suggestion for the next round of mapmaking: draft maps in public, convene frequent meetings and use a different mapmaker.” As the majority put it:

‘The commission should retain an independent map drawer – who answers to all commission members, not only to the Republican legislative leaders – to draft a plan through a transparent process… Resolving this self-created chaos thus depends not on the number of hands on the computer mouse but, rather, on the political will to honor the people’s call to end partisan gerrymandering… To be clear, the presence of toss-up districts in the plan is not alone the basis of our determination… The remarkably one-sided distribution of toss-up districts is evidence of an intentionally biased map, and it leads to partisan asymmetry.’

Officials in Ohio had been angling to hold primary elections for all current races on May 3, but with the state Supreme Court further extending the process through their rejection of these newly proposed state legislative districts, that’s not going to work. As explained by the Dispatch, “The rejected maps could have given the GOP a 54-45 advantage in the Ohio House and an 18-15 edge in the Senate. Those numbers matched the statewide voting preferences of Ohioans, which averaged 54% for Republican statewide candidates and 46% for Democratic ones during the past decade.” There are other issues, though — for instance, what about building in possibilities for change? If solid Republican majorities are built into a solid majority of districts, then the impacts of certain voters changing their minds could be essentially squashed. Stanford University Professor Jonathan Rodden, who has provided analysis for litigation against proposed district lines, stated that GOP leaders put in place a “very hard ceiling” on the number of districts Democrats could win. Erasing competitiveness isn’t “fair.”

Among other issues, the Ohio Supreme Court has also noted that the “nearly exclusive control” held by Ohio state Senate President Matt Huffman (R) and state House Speaker Bob Cupp (R) “over the first two rounds of map drawing was strong evidence of partisan intent.” Redistricting battles are continuing to unfold around the country, including in Kansas, where Republican state officials split the state’s most racially and ethnically diverse county across more than one Congressional district for the first time in decades, making it more difficult for residents there to unite and make their voices heard. As of early last week, one key state — Florida — remained among the last locales in the country yet to implement initial Congressional redistricting plans.