GOP voters in Ohio push for speed in Statehouse map dispute

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A group of Republican voters seeking use of Ohio legislative maps in 2022 elections that have been declared unconstitutional is pleading with a federal court to expedite their lawsuit.

In a filing Friday, the group told U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley that any plans to delay a status conference scheduled for Monday to March 14 would effectively deny their right to have their case heard.

Marbley decided last week to pause the federal case to see whether the Republican-dominated Ohio Redistricting Commission, after two failed tries, would come up with legislative maps that the Ohio Supreme Court would deem constitutional.

The panel approved its third set of Statehouse maps on Feb. 24. The vote prompted the high court to call off an in-person hearing to which it had called the commission’s high-profile line-up.

The justices’ decision is expected any time on the constitutionality of the third round of maps, which drew continuing objections from voting rights and Democratic groups that have sued.

The GOP voters’ reasoning for swift action on their case in federal court is that delaying by a week would push the proceeding past a date when a ruling in their favor could be implemented in time for Ohio’s May 3 primary.

“The back-and-forth between the Redistricting Commission and the Ohio Supreme Court did not stop Ohio election law,” the filing said. “Ohio’s key election deadlines are set by statute, including key deadlines in February and March.”

The plaintiffs mention 18 times in the 20-page filing that Marbley needs to refer their case to the chief circuit judge so that he can appoint a three-judge panel to hear their case.

That judge is Jeffrey Sutton, a conservative appointed by former Republican President George W. Bush. Marbley was appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton.

The filing at no time mentions that the Republican-led General Assembly has the power to delay Ohio’s primary election to accommodate court wrangling. Legislative leaders have refused so far to do so, despite an appeal by county election officials and recommendations by both the state attorney general and secretary of state, who oversees elections.

The second set of maps championed by the group of Republican voters got closer to the state’s 54% Republican to 46% Democratic partisan breakdown than the first set, while still creating heavy GOP majorities in both the Ohio House and Ohio Senate.

Specifically, it created 57 Republican and 42 Democratic seats in the Ohio House, and 20 Republican and 13 Democratic seats in the Ohio Senate. Many districts were so closely divided that they could have been election toss-ups — primarily in Republicans’ favor, contributing to the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision that they were gerrymandered.

By Julie Carr Smyth

Associated Press