BY: SUSAN TEBBEN – Ohio Capital Journal

House Speaker Bob Cupp, center right, and state Sen. Vernon Sykes, far right, co-chairs of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, speak to media after a January meeting to restart the legislative redistricting process. The process is set to start again next week. (Photo: Susan Tebben, OCJ)

The tide seems to be turning on congressional redistricting, with legislative leaders saying the process lacks needed support in the General Assembly, and will likely head back to the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

A day after legislative maps were sent back to the ORC for a third time, a co-chair of that commission says the congressional map is headed that way as well.

House Speaker Bob Cupp told media at the Statehouse on Tuesday that a two-thirds vote would not be possible in the legislature, which is necessary to be able to pass a congressional map in the General Assembly.

Because of that lack of support, a redistricting plan could not include an emergency clause, which would be needed for the plan to take effect immediately. The legislature was on the clock to pass a revised plan by Feb. 13 (Super Bowl Sunday), and for that plan to become effective in time for the May primary.

Bills typically take effect 90 days after the governor’s signature, which would conflict with the primary deadlines.

A spokesperson for Senate President Matt Huffman said because a commission vote doesn’t need an emergency clause, “it makes sense for the congressional map to go to the commission” if a two-thirds vote isn’t possible.

House Democrats said the GOP made agreement difficult, having never shared a Republican proposal with the other party.

“Democrats cannot support a map that we have not seen,” Maya Majikas, deputy communications director for the House Democratic Caucus, told the OCJ.

Yesterday, House Minority Leader Allison Russo spelled out her expectations for the congressional redraw, which included work by the General Assembly.

“There is a clear path to producing a fair, constitutional map that allows for the equal representation that all Ohio voters deserve. Now, it is the duty of this General Assembly to uphold our Constitutional responsibility and deliver a fair map,” Russo said in a statement.

Democrats in both chambers spent Tuesday pushing their proposal for congressional districts, releasing a map with a GOP majority 8-7 split. One district covering Cuyahoga County is considered Dem-leaning, according to the caucus numbers, but only gives Dems a 50.9% to 49% advantage.

Should the legislature continue to hold until the Feb. 13 deadline, the Ohio Redistricting Commission will have 30 days to come up with a congressional plan to replace the one rejected by the court.

This deadline comes alongside a Feb. 17 deadline for the commission to submit a third version of the legislative district plan to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office, and submit it back to the court for review.

In their Monday decision striking down the newest version of the legislative maps, the Ohio Supreme Court said they maintain jurisdiction over the maps. They also addressed the timeline for the May primary and 2022 elections in their decision.

Republican members of the redistricting commission had asked the court to decide the case by Feb. 11 or to hold their decision until after the 2022 general election, using the now-rejected plan until that time.

In their 4-3 decision, the majority justices on the court said the General Assembly “has the authority to ease the pressure that the commission’s failure to adopt a constitutional redistricting plan has placed on the secretary of state and on county boards of elections by moving the primary election, should that action become necessary.”

Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office confirmed that it is solely on the legislature to decide when an election conducted, though the secretary of state can advise them on “cascading events” that would be impacted by changing an election, according to spokesperson Rob Nichols.

There is precedent for moving an election day, as LaRose did during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the ORC response to objections to the legislative maps, the commission laid out the impact the redistricting maelstrom may have on the 2022 election season.

“Ohio’s expansive early voting framework amounts to an election season that begins with early in-person and absentee voting 29 days before the primary,” they wrote in court documents.

That date would be April 5 this year, meaning before that date county boards of election need to print and prepare ballots under Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), for which federal law requires boards to begin mailing the ballots at least 45 days before the primary.

Those ballots need to be sent by March 19 this year.

“Though the General Assembly can, and has, temporarily amended Ohio law to move some of Ohio’s election deadlines for the primary election, the federal UOCAVA deadline is set by federal statute (and) it cannot be moved by the General Assembly or the Secretary,” the ORC wrote.

Without districts to determine the voting precincts for those uniformed and overseas citizens, the ballots can’t be sent.

Still, LaRose has only asked the General Assembly for the authority to shift some administrative deadlines having to do with the primary, not to move the election entirely.

“His job right now is to administer an election on May 3,” Nichols told the OCJ.

LaRose is also a member of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, so he’ll be multi-tasking as the redistricting process continues.

SUSAN TEBBEN is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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