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Political drama over maps could result in two primary elections in Ohio

Secretary of State Frank LaRose said the Ohio legislature could hold one primary for statewide races and a second one for district contests after maps are approved.

PARMA, Ohio — In just six weeks, the polls are set to open for voters to cast ballots in this year’s midterm primary elections.

But the maps that define the boundaries – and ultimately who will represent Ohio communities in Columbus and in Congress -- remain in dispute and are currently in the hands of the Ohio Supreme Court.

3News asked Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose Monday in Parma for the latest on the state’s election drama. He was touring an apprentice program for veterans run by the Sheet Metal Workers.

“I was just on the phone with Cuyahoga County Board of Elections and they made great progress over the weekend, and I was just on with Franklin County Board of elections as well,” he said about the rushed preparations caused by mapmaking delays. “Our job is to make sure the boards of elections are ready. We gave them about three months of work to do and only about one month to do it.”

The days of rigging state and congressional maps to favor one party – a process of known as gerrymandering -- were supposed to be over. That’s because voters backed reforms, including a 2015 constitutional amendment setting new guidelines on how officials draw maps following updated U.S. Census figures. The reforms are intended to remove partisanship from the process.

“The work of drawing maps is enormously complex, and it is an inherently political process,” said LaRose.

But the Ohio Supreme Courts has ruled initial maps were unconstitutional because they favored the Republican Party, which currently controls the process. LaRose and Gov. Mike DeWine, both Republicans, had a hand in the mapmaking.  

The newest maps sit before the court. A decision that could come any moment.

“This sets up a decision for the legislature to make,” he said. “Of course, I believe the maps enacted were constitutional. The court gets to make that decision or the court could do nothing.”

If the court the does nothing, the latest maps stand. If the Court rejects the latest maps, elections officials will have a hard time preparing for the May primary. The legislature has the power to move the primary. LaRose says it can move the entire election back or hold two primaries – one for statewide races now and one later after legal challenges to the maps are resolved.

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