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Ohio Supreme Court Strikes Down Gerrymandered GOP Maps for the Third Time

Court justices said that Republicans have stirred up “self-created chaos” in the redistricting process.

The Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center, headquarters of the Ohio Supreme Court, is pictured at night.

The Ohio Supreme Court has rejected Republican-drawn district maps in the state for the third time, sending the majority-Republican Ohio Redistricting Commission back to the drawing board yet again.

In a 4-3 decision, the judges found that the maps were unconstitutional and didn’t reflect the will of voters in the state. “Substantial and compelling evidence shows beyond a reasonable doubt that the main goal of the individuals who drafted the second revised plan was to favor the Republican Party and disfavor the Democratic Party,” the majority wrote.

The majority, including one conservative justice, said that Republicans have inflicted “chaos” on themselves in the map-drawing process. They directed the commission to turn in new maps by March 28. At least part of the primary election set to take place on May 3 will almost certainly have to be delayed.

“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,” the ruling reads. Republicans have already had their maps rejected by the court twice for gerrymandering, and the commission has missed numerous deadlines to pass maps.

Democratic state lawmakers criticized Republicans for trying to pass gerrymandered maps yet again.

“For a third time, the Supreme Court has ruled that the majority party is not above the law and cannot blatantly disregard the will of Ohio voters and the Ohio Constitution,” said Ohio House Minority Leader and Democratic redistricting commission member Allison Russo in a statement. “Democrats have a state legislative map proposal ready to go that is fair, constitutional, and closely reflects the statewide voting preferences of Ohioans. Now, it is up to the Republican Commissioners to work with us to adopt the fair maps Ohioans deserve.”

The most recent maps were adopted by the redistricting commission 4 to 3, with only Republicans voting for the map and one Republican joining the two Democrats in the group to vote against them. Because they weren’t passed with a bipartisan majority, they would only have been in place for four years.

When the commission redrew the maps after they were rejected for the second time in February, the justices ruled that the maps gave unfair favor to Republicans, giving them 58 percent of seats when previous election data has shown that about 54 percent of Ohio voters preferred Republicans. The maps then would have created a 42 percent seat ceiling for Democrats, the justices found.

Under the newly rejected maps, Republicans would have gotten 54 percent of seats in the state, matching voter preferences on a surface level. But voting rights advocates said that the maps would have put a hard cap on the number of districts that Democrats could win, regardless of voter preferences in that election.

Democrats weren’t given a chance to contribute to the map-drawing or even review the maps when they were presented in February, justices said in their decision. “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 justices wrote.

On Thursday, GOP Gov. Mike DeWine suggested that Republican and Democratic mapmakers “work together” on the fourth draft, which is theoretically the entire purpose of the redistricting commission. The group was created in 2015 in a constitutional amendment approved by voters, in order to stamp out partisan bias in the map-drawing process, but Republicans have been able to commandeer the commission and create gerrymandered maps anyway.

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