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The Ohio Supreme Court ordered the seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission to redraw maps for state House and Senate districts – imposing a tight deadline and creating a slew of new questions.
Now, the commission has 10 days to get back together, craft new maps and approve them. If the maps receive bipartisan support from two Democrats and at least two Republicans, they could last for 10 years. If they are passed along party lines again, they would last for four years.
The Ohio Supreme Court, in its 4-3 decision, made clear that the commission must follow all of the voter-approved changes to the Ohio Constitution to curb gerrymandering. That includes Section 6, which required the commission to attempt to match the statewide voting preferences of Ohioans.
Justice Melody Stewart, writing for the majority, defined Ohio's statewide preferences as about 54% of voters preferring GOP candidates and about 46% preferring Democratic candidates over the past decade.
"The commission is required to attempt to draw a plan in which the statewide proportion of Republican-leaning districts to Democratic-leaning districts closely corresponds to those percentages," she wrote.
Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said he hasn't yet read the decision himself. "Our lawyers are trying to figure out what it will take for us to comply with whatever it is that the court ordered."
Huffman and fellow Republicans had argued that the section that dealt with statewide voting preferences was aspirational. "They disagreed with me, but they're the court and that's what matters," he said.
A tight turnaround and a failure of leadership?
The commission – which includes four lawmakers and three statewide elected officials – struggled to work together and reach a consensus on the last maps. Now, they must draw new ones under a much tighter deadline.
Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Paduchik wasn't pleased with the short turnaround, saying in a statement: "It’s a failure of leadership of the Chief Justice to take 90 days to make this decision and leave only 10 days for the commission to clean it up. She is responsible for this mess."
Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, however, said the commission should be up to the task that voters set out for them.
"This is our opportunity to listen to the people, to listen to the Supreme Court and move this thing forward," said Yuko, D-Richmond Heights.
Once the map is approved, those who filed lawsuits will have three days to file any objections. That could trigger another Ohio Supreme Court review.
"In theory, we do a map, we send it over, they don't like it, they send it back, we do another map," Huffman said. "I don't know how many times that happens."
Who will be on the Commission?
The commission was dissolved after the last maps, so it would need to be reconstituted – and that could mean different lawmakers on the panel.
Yuko said he would appoint Sen. Vernon Sykes again. Rep. Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, who was recently selected as House minority leader, will serve on the commission as well.
Huffman said he hadn't decided yet if he would appoint himself to the commission again. A House GOP spokesman did not immediately respond to a question about whether Speaker Bob Cupp would be on the commission again.
Three members are already set: Gov. Mike DeWine, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Ohio Auditor Keith Faber.
What happens to the primary?
Meanwhile, another deadline is looming: the Feb. 2 deadline for statehouse candidates to file paperwork to run in legislative districts that currently don't exist.
“I don’t see any reasonable way that the General Assembly members or candidates can be ready to file by Feb. 2. We don’t know what the districts are," Huffman told WIMA Radio in Lima. "One thing that we have to consider now is do we change the May 3rd primary?"
Moving a primary is a monumental task – as Ohio learned when DeWine's administration delayed the 2020 primary election to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"My preference is not moving the primary. That causes a variety of problems," Huffman said.
Ohio lawmakers could instead change the filing deadline for House and Senate candidates.
"You can solve the filing deadline by moving that back 30 days, but somebody has to do that – either the Legislature or perhaps the court can order it," Huffman said.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairwoman Liz Walters agreed with that approach and didn't want to move the primary.
Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township, offered another option: Lawmakers could lower the number of signatures needed to make the ballot – currently 50 – or relax where those signatures needed to come from.
"I am certainly not inclined to move any dates," said Seitz, adding that it wasn't candidates' faults that "egregious judicial overreach" had created a time crunch to collect signatures.
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Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Akron Beacon Journal, Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: The Ohio Supreme Court struck down legislative maps. What comes next?