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Ohio Supreme Court rejects the third set of statehouse maps, making full May 3 primary unlikely

Ohio Supreme Court chambers.
Dan Konik
Ohio Public Radio

The most recent set of Ohio House and Senate district maps have been struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court for the third time and will likely delay at least part of Ohio's May 3 primary election.

The latest set of maps created by Ohio Republicans was ruled unconstitutional by the court due to gerrymandering by a 4-3 decision. Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, a Republican, for the third time sided with the three Democrats on the court to reject the maps.

"It is further ordered that to promote transparency and increase public trust, the drafting shall occur in public and the commissioners should convene frequent meetings to demonstrate their bipartisan efforts to reach a constitutional plan within the time set by this court," O'Connor wrote.

In a strongly worded dissent, Republican Justices Sharon Kennedy and Pat DeWine wrote, "The majority decrees electoral chaos. It issues an order all but guaranteed to disrupt an impending election and bring Ohio to the brink of a constitutional crisis."

They added, "The majority’s decree today is an exercise of raw political power. Nothing less. Nothing more."

The court is still reviewing a March 2 proposal for a new congressional district map.

The Ohio Redistricting Commission adopted the maps by a vote of 4 to 3, with Republican Auditor Keith Faber joining Democratic commissioners in voting against the proposal on February 25.

The maps created 54 Republican and 45 Democratic seats in the House and 18 Republican and 15 Democratic seats in the Senate.

The Republican-drawn plan for new legislative district maps was the third attempt to create maps that comply with the constitution and orders from the Ohio Supreme Court.

The first set of maps was struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court in January, and the second set was also found to be in violation of the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the state constitution in February.

The delay in passing constitutional district maps has impacted the upcoming May primary, causing issues with candidate filings and military and overseas ballots. Secretary of State Frank LaRose said in February that it was already too late for the current primary date to comply with the Ohio Constitution.

The Ohio Senate president Matt Huffman suggested that the state should slit the primaries into two different dates, which state election officials strongly discouraged. Election officials later asked lawmakers to completely delay the May 3 primary.

In February, the Ohio Redistricting Commissionviolated a state Supreme Court order by failing to adopt new state House and Senate district maps by the February 17 deadline set by the high court.

The Ohio Redistricting Commission was ordered to appear before the Ohio Supreme Court for a hearing on March 1 explaining why they shouldn’t be held in contempt for not passing House and Senate maps before the deadline.

Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp and Senate President Matt Huffman responded about 20 minutes before the noon deadline, saying in their response through their lawyer Phillip Strach, that not only is a contempt finding “inappropriate,” but also: "In any event, it may be unnecessary as the Speaker and the President anticipate the Commission will vote on a new plan this week."

The commission responded separately through its lawyer, saying no member should be held in contempt because "a new plan could be approved in the coming days" but also that "it appears each member acted in good faith in an effort to comply timely with the Court’s order."

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.