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Upcoming trial hopes to change Ohio’s voting map for 2020

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Ohio Congressional Districts. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Last year, Ohio voters decided to change the current congressional map in 2022, but an upcoming trial may make those changes sooner than expected.

An upcoming lawsuit aims to redraw the Ohio congressional district map in time for the 2020 election.

The lawsuit was filed in May 2018 on behalf of The League of Women Voters of Ohio (LWVO), the A. Philip Randolph Institution, the ACLU, and individual constituents. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue that Ohio’s current map violates voters’ constitutional rights by skewing results in favor of Republicans.

Several state government offices, including the Ohio Governor and Secretary of State offices, are currently defendants in the case. None of the defendants were available for comment.

The current map consists of 12 majority Republican districts and four majority Democratic districts. The current map was created in 2011, when Republicans were in control of the drawing process. Since 2011, the GOP has consistently won 75 percent of Ohio’s congressional seats.

According to Thomas Suddes, an assistant journalism professor at Ohio University and an Ohio political columnist, Democrats last partially drew the congressional map in 1971 and 1981, and have not drawn a map on their own since 1991.

In May 2018, Ohio constituents voted in favor of Issue 1, which, according to the Secretary of State’s office, focused on amending the Ohio Constitution and creating “a bipartisan, public process for drawing congressional districts.”

The changes were originally going to be made in 2022 after results of the next census became available. According to Ohio’s Secretary of State office, maps are typically redrawn after each decennial census. However, this lawsuit attempts to put changes in place by Sept. 20, 2019, in preparation for the 2020 election.

The LWVO has been working against partisan gerrymandering since the 1940s through legislative lobbying and ballot initiatives. The organization backed Issue 1 last year, and while Jen Miller, the executive director of the LWVO, is hopeful for the more fair process outlined in Issue 1 will hopefully provide, she feels Ohio voters still need more protection against the negative outcomes that can come from partisan gerrymandering.

“Right now, there’s a guaranteed outcome for every election,” Miller said. “Politicians are able to pick their voters rather than voters picking their elected officials. The problem with that is that if a legislator knows they will win reelection, they don’t need to be responsive to their constituents.”

According to Miller, while partisan gerrymandering is an issue that courts are allowed to engage with, it is more difficult to measure the extent of gerrymandering and to find exactly when certain maps become worthy of changing. Miller hopes this lawsuit can improve this process.

“We don’t know how to tell how gerrymandered a map is and when it becomes unconstitutional,” she said. “But, the last few years, mathematicians, map makers, and lawyers have gotten together to create new standards for measuring partisan gerrymandering. If we win the lawsuit, we will have a court-approved method of measuring when the process is unfair.”

Suddes stated that in the past, very few constitutional maps have been challenged because of how difficult and costly the process of challenging a map can become for individual plaintiffs. But at the same time, he views the challenging process as a worthy cause.

“Your odds of winning aren’t that great unless the map is really egregious, and the expenses you have to absorb if you lose can be extremely expensive,” Suddes said. “If something in the status quo is unfair with something as basic as representation, there’s every reason to pursue it.”

As of now, the trial will occur on March 4 in Cincinnati and could last for two weeks. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office previously requested to delay the trial until rulings on two gerrymandering cases appearing before the U.S. Supreme Court  — one in Maryland and one in North Carolina — are decided this summer.

Last Friday, a three-judge federal panel rejected the request to delay the trial, citing time considerations for the upcoming 2020 election. However, Miller said it is likely that the losing party, in this case, will still appeal directly to the Supreme Court.

Ultimately, Miller said that regardless of the outcome of the trial, Ohio citizens should not allow the current congressional map to push them away from the voting booths in the next few elections.

“Even in a gerrymandered state, it’s important to vote,” Miller said. “But, we hope that soon, there will be more fair maps in a very near future.”

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