by Allison Handler
Though Ohio’s U.S. House district lines have been approved since September, it was not until February 17th that the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that those lines would remain in place for the 2012 elections. Much controversy has surrounded the lines, with claims from Democrats that the redistricting map was gerrymandered to favor the GOP. John Husted, Ohio Secretary of State, has called the state’s line-drawing system “partisan and dysfunctional.” Nevertheless, the Supreme Court based its ruling on timing; the Democrats “unreasonably delayed” the filing of their suit until 96 days after the districts had already been approved.
The redistricting scheme has famously left two veteran liberal incumbents running against each other: Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich. In addition to this high profile contest, the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting said the new map, developed last year when Republicans controlled four of the five seats of the Apportionment Board, reduces the number of competitive legislative districts and increases the number of safe Republican districts.
With primary elections only two weeks away, a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Democrats would have required postponed elections. Logistically, the doubt cast over the redistricting lines has led to some insecurity among candidates regarding where exactly they should be campaigning. Such controversies will be put aside for the upcoming primary, but the Supreme Court has agreed to evaluate the district map again for future elections. The lawsuit charged that GOP line drawing violated Article 11 of the state constitution, which requires that the districts be compact and contiguous and that local units of government not be split unnecessarily. The map divides 51 counties, 108 townships, 55 cities and 41 wards for a total of 255 divisions, according to the lawsuit.
The experience has prompted several advocacy organizations, like the League of Women Voters of Ohio and Common Cause Ohio, to band together in coalition to improve the way Ohio draws its districts. Known as Voters First Ohio, the group aims to create, by ballot drive, the Ohio Independent Redistricting Commission. The Commission would be charged with drawing lines for the 2014 election. This plan is meant to assuage some of the damage done by the 2011 redistricting in time to affect elections prior to 2021, when the state will undergo redistricting again after the next census.
“The  plan was secretly drawn, the public hearings were a sham and it’s very clear that the sole goal was to maximize partisan advantage,” said Ohio State University Moritz College of Law Professor Daniel Tokaji, one of the leaders of the coalition. “It was the exact opposite of a fair process — you’d be hard-pressed to find a place where the process or end product was uglier than Ohio.”
Allison Handler is a first-year law student at William & Mary.
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