Ohio Weighs Two Primary Dates as Officials Scramble on Maps (1)

  • Lawmakers must decide what to do, secretary of state says
  • Contempt of court hearing for redistricting panel on Tuesday

(Updates with details, vote from the redistricting commission meeting Thursday night.)

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Ohio is looking at holding two primaries because the state redistricting commission didn’t do its job on time.

The May 3 primary will be held as scheduled for governor, U.S. Senate, and other elective offices not affected by redistricting, unless lawmakers decide to hold one primary for statewide, congressional, and legislative offices at a later date, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said in a Feb. 22 letter to state legislative leaders.

LaRose said it was “impossible to foresee a scenario” in which congressional and legislative district maps could be passed by the state redistricting commission and approved by the state Supreme Court in time for the scheduled primary. The court rejected the commission’s original legislative map because it favored Republicans, and ordered it redone.

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Holding two primaries would be unusual, if not unprecedented, said Wendy Underhill, director of elections and redistricting at the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks state primaries and filing dates. She said one other state, North Carolina, had delayed its primary this year and a half-dozen have delayed filing dates because of lawsuits over redistricting maps.

“Each day that passes, there’s more and more litigation, and primary dates are getting closer and closer,” Underhill said, adding that the trends are headed for “a collision.”

LaRose’s warning came as the Ohio Redistricting Commission met Thursday evening and approved, 4 to 3, a state legislative map that Republicans said they hoped would pass muster with the state Supreme Court and comply with anti-gerrymandering requirements in the state Constitution that Ohio voters approved in 2018.

The map favors Republicans 54 to 45 in state House districts and 18 to 15 in state Senate districts, they said. The commission’s two Democrats balked, saying many of the supposed Democratic-leaning districts were actually toss-ups. State Rep. Allison Russo (D) said the map did not comply with anti-gerrymandering requirements laid out by the court

Photographer: Justin Merriman/Getty Images
Frank LaRose, after winning office as Ohio secretary of state, at the Ohio Republican Party’s election night party, Nov. 6, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio.

The meeting followed an order by the Ohio Supreme Court threatening commission members with contempt of court for failing to meet a Feb. 17 deadline for drawing a fair legislative map. The deadline for a U.S. House map is mid-March.

After the vote, LaRose, a member of the commission, said it might be possible to keep the May 3 primary date on track for all elections, depending on how quickly the state Supreme Court moves. “We are under one heck of a time crunch,” he said.

State House Speaker Robert Cupp (R), a commission co-chairman, said the panel would meet again Tuesday, and he hoped to quickly approve a congressional district map.

Panel members, including Gov. Mike DeWine (R) and other top state leaders, also must appear Tuesday before the state Supreme Court “to address why the commission should not be found in contempt for failure to comply” with the court’s order. Patrick DeWine, the governor’s son and one of seven justices on the high court, said he would recuse himself from that hearing because the court “could consider sanctions directed at individual members of the redistricting commission.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tina May at tmay@bloomberglaw.com; Meghashyam Mali at mmali@bloombergindustry.com

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