Ohio Supreme Court Decision Puts Primary in Limbo

In a 4–3 decision on Wednesday night, the Ohio Supreme Court announced that it was rejecting redrawn Ohio state house and senate maps for the third time. The decision puts the Ohio primary — currently slated for May 3 — in jeopardy and continues to leave candidates and voters in limbo. 

The Ohio Supreme Court is requiring that the Ohio Redistricting Commission produce a new and fair map by March 28. With just over a week to produce the new maps, the court also recommended that lawmakers on the commission employ an independent mapmaker and include greater public comment in the map-making process. 

“The evidence shows that the map-drawing process for all three districting plans we have reviewed has been controlled by the Republican Party,” the Court wrote in its majority opinion. 

“The evidence shows that the individuals who controlled the map-drawing process exercised that control with the overriding intent to maintain as much of an advantage as possible for members of their political party. … The commission has again adopted a plan in which a disproportionate number of toss-up districts are labeled Democratic-leaning.”

The decision severely damages the ability of election workers to hold a full primary in early May. Ballots for people voting overseas were meant to be sent out starting today, but uncertainty around the redistricting process makes it impossible for election officials to determine what district voters will be eligible to vote in when the new maps are finalized. 

“There was a discussion of maybe having possibly two primaries this spring — I mean everything is up in the air except making sure you’re registered at least a month before that election,” said Zeb Page, associate professor of Geology and Oberlin College Votes member. “So I think that remains the important thing.”

Executive Chairman of the Lorain County Republican Party David Arredondo stated that any changes to the primary’s date would be costly. 

“It is going to cause a lot of chaos because there are several possibilities for the legislature,” Arredondo said. “Option A is to move the date of the primary to June the sixth or something like that, or even to whatever the first Tuesday of August is. So that is one option. Option B is to run the primary on May 3rd for only the state offices, local offices,and everybody but the state, legislature and Congress. … Option A and Option B are going to be very, very expensive. Option C is to run the elections as constituted right now. And that is based on map number two, which at this moment, boards of elections have already printed ballots to go out for the military.”

The decision comes after months of contentious back and forth between commission members and the Ohio Supreme Court. Last month, commission members missed a deadline set by the Supreme Court to produce new maps which raised the possibility that members of the commission, including high profile Ohio politicians like Governor Mike DeWine, might be held in contempt of court for missing the deadline.

The Ohio Congressional Map is also being held up in state court. The commission approved the new map with 10 Republican, two Democratic, and two toss-up districts on March 2. Lorain County was moved out of Ohio District 4 and into District 5 in the new map. The Ohio Supreme Court has not yet spoken on whether it will approve this map. 

Ohio is one of five states that has yet to complete the redistricting process.