WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, Sept. 13, at 10 a.m. EDT, the Ohio Redistricting Commission (ORC) will hold its first meeting since the commission was reconstituted.
The commission features four new members: Senate Majority Whip Rob McColley (R),Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D), House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D) and Rep. Jeff LaRe (R). The senate president, speaker of the house, senate minority leader and house minority leader each appoint one member.
Although expected to be administrative in nature, the meeting marks the start of a tight timeline for the creation of new state legislative maps for 2024.
In 2015, the ORC was created by a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution, and has been used to draw Ohio’s legislative maps since 2018. As for the congressional map, the Legislature draws it first and then the commission serves as a backup if the Legislature fails to do so. Despite sounding good on paper, the commission is made up entirely of politicians or individuals appointed by politicians, including Gov. Mike DeWine (R) and Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), and has a heavily partisan bent, with Republicans holding a 5-2 majority.
Republicans on the commission have exploited this partisan advantage, passing partisan gerrymandered maps favored toward Republicans time and time again. The legislative maps have been passed five different times, and each time the maps were struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court.
In May 2022, the court ordered the ORC to create a sixth legislative map, which the commission will begin to do today. LaRose has estimated that the commission has until Sept. 22 to adopt a new map, a short timeline for the process.
Yet the legal fight is not over either as three lawsuits challenging the legislative maps are still ongoing. All three lawsuits argue that Ohio’s legislative maps are illegal partisan gerrymanders and ask that the maps be struck down and replaced with a compliant set of maps. While activists argue that fair legislative maps would consist of 45 Democratic seats in the House and 15 Democratic seats in the Senate, there are just 32 House Democrats and seven Senate Democrats in the Legislature currently.
Similarly, two sets of congressional maps — the second of which was passed by the ORC in March 2022 — were struck down by the state’s highest court for being partisan gerrymanders. The ORC had taken over the process after the Ohio General Assembly failed to pass a new congressional map after its first one was struck down. Due to these tactics, Ohioans were forced to vote under illegal maps at the state and congressional levels in 2022.
The Ohio Supreme Court recently dismissed two challenges to the state’s congressional map, meaning that Ohioans will vote under an illegally gerrymandered congressional map two cycles in a row. Democrats and pro-voting advocates who filed the challenges had asked the court to dismiss their cases, out of fear that the court, which became more conservative after the 2022 midterms, could take action that would leave the state with an even further gerrymandered map. However, new congressional districts will have to be drawn for the 2026 elections because the original map was passed by a simple majority of the Legislature.
With the Republican-controlled commission having made clear that it refuses to draw fair maps, a pro-voting group has launched an effort to create a new type of redistricting commission. The group, Citizens Not Politicians, is seeking to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2024 that would implement a citizen-led redistricting commission. The 15-person commission would consist entirely of citizens, and be evenly split between Democrats, Republicans and independents.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) rejected ballot language describing the amendment last month, claiming the language was not “fair and truthful representation of the proposed amendment.” Citizens Not Politicians has since resubmitted language describing the amendment, which the group said includes adjustments requested by Yost.