COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A federal court panel on Friday ordered Ohio to hold an Aug. 2 primary using the third set of Statehouse cards approved by the Ohio Redistricting Commission, despite a reprimand from the plan by the state high court.
The court acted after giving Ohio a deadline on Saturday to come up with a new map of legislative districts, a divided panel of three judges from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio said in its decision.
That deadline will be missed, as the GOP-controlled committee has not scheduled any meetings.
“We recognized early on that choosing a remedy would be difficult,” Circuit Judge Amul Thapar said in the 2-1 majority opinion.
“And between the standoff between state officials and the delay in getting the case, our options were limited,” Thapar wrote. “So we chose the best of our bad options.”
The federal court ruling came amid a lawsuit brought by a group of Republican voters who initially sought to salvage the legislative primaries scheduled for May 3 by using the commission’s third set of district lines, which was also ruled unconstitutional.
Friday’s decision was a victory for that GOP group, as well as the Republican-dominated redistricting commission, which passed five consecutive rounds of legislative maps that could not meet the constitutional rally.
A directive to the state’s 88 election board regarding the primary will be sent Saturday, said Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the state’s chief election officer and a member of the redistricting commission.
Federal Judge Algenon Marbley dissented in Friday’s decision, pointing out that the state Supreme Court reiterated this week that the third map remains unconstitutional.
The best option remained the map drawn by two experts, one selected by Republicans, the other by Democrats, Marbley said.
The two men — Douglas Johnson, president of the National Demographics Corporation, and Michael McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida — were nearly done when the commission suddenly shelved its work and adopted a different map. The pair had been paid $450 an hour in the previous four days to draw new maps at work, viewed step-by-step online.
The Ohio map battle comes amid the once-a-decade political mapping process that all states must undertake to reflect census demographic changes. A combination of Republican foot-dragging and legal wrangling extended redistricting into the 2022 election season and stalled Ohio’s legislative primaries. The cards were supposed to be finished last fall.
A 2015 constitutional amendment, passed overwhelmingly by voters, required the commission to at least try to avoid partisan patronage and try to proportionately distribute districts to reflect Ohio’s political makeup, which is divided at about 54% Republican, 46% Democrat.
The Republican commissioners argued that the set of maps they resubmitted to the court met those requirements. According to GOP calculations, the limits would create a 54-45 Republican majority in the Ohio House and an 18-15 Republican majority in the Ohio Senate. Democrats disputed their numbers, saying many of the districts counted in the Democrats’ column are very tightly divided.
LaRose and the association representing election officials in Ohio’s 88 counties, which administer the elections, had previously said they wanted the legislative primaries to be held on Aug. 2.
Friday’s court ruling was disappointing, said Sen. Vernon Sykes, Democrat of Akron and co-chair of the redistricting commission. But he noted that the decision only affects this year’s elections.
“The Ohio Redistricting Commission still has a responsibility to draw fair constitutional maps for the remainder of the decade and I will continue to work toward that goal,” Sykes said.