A few weeks ago, after going through the motions of taking public input at statewide hearings and soliciting maps from citizens online at DrawtheLineOhio.com, Republicans in the state legislature tossed out a map they’d clearly developed in a backroom devoid of outside input.
The new map split many urban counties into four and five pieces, severed communities, linked far-flung cities into a common district, drew districts that sprawled across half the state, and created one district whose pieces were joined only by the Sandusky Bay Bridge, with seagulls possibly carrying messages from one half to the other. The House voted to pass the map in 48 hours, allotting no time for public input. It also inserted an appropriation into the bill, something the Ohio Constitution says cannot be repealed.
There was a fly in the ointment, however. A few years ago, the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously found that an appropriation cannot be inserted into a bill solely to make it immune to repeal. Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected the Ohio Democratic Party request for ballot language to launch a repeal referendum anyway. The ODP appealed to the court to reiterate its earlier decision. On Friday, the 6-1 Republican Supreme Court did so. So the ODP has refiled its referendum request.
This leaves Ohio congressional districting in limbo — and potential chaos. The ODP has appealed to the Supreme Court to restart the time clock for collecting signatures (currently 90 days from the September 26 passage of the map). If it does not do so, the deadline for collecting the necessary 231,000 valid signatures is December 26. (If it does, the deadline will be even later). But the filing deadline for congressional races is December 7. And an extension of the petition deadline could put it within days of the start of early voting for the March 6 primary. Since the state has lost two congressional seats, it cannot revert to the current map. The solution is anybody’s guess.
Democrats are hoping Republicans will return to the negotiating table and craft a new map with public input. If they don’t, the ODP — fully aware of the difficulties involved in collecting signatures in a short time period with holidays and a crucial election looming, and volunteers burned out from two referendum petition drives in less than six months — says it is allocating resources to hire a professional petition circulating company.
“We want the Republicans to sit down and draw some new maps,” says ODP communications director Seth Bringman. “And if they don’t, we’ll move forward. The ball is in their court now. Unless they come up with something fair that has the support of Democratic leadership, we’re not going to withdraw the referendum.” — Anastasia Pantsios