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Ohioans got short shrift as politicos, lawyers delayed maps

Accusations have flown for months over whose delays are most to blame for Ohio’s redistricting predicament.
Credit: Sean.Reid - stock.adobe.com

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Accusations have flown for months over whose delays are most to blame for Ohio's redistricting predicament — a mess of a political mapmaking fight that's left the state without settled political maps and voters without a day for electing party nominees to Statehouse seats.

Voting rights groups blame Republicans at the Statehouse. GOP lawmakers blame national Democrats and the Ohio Supreme Court. The court implicitly faults the Ohio Redistricting Commission, which has taken its time by submitting repeated maps deemed unconstitutionally gerrymandered in favor of Republicans. Commissioners point fingers at the justices, special interest groups and the initial census delays.

An Associated Press review found there's plenty of blame to go around — and amid hundreds of days of lags by government statisticians, lawyers, judges and politicians, the public was the group given short shrift. The public airing of the legislative and congressional maps combined included a scant 64 days.

The AP tally is based on legislative activity, court dockets, commission minutes and other reporting, and verified using calendars, emails and other documents obtained through public records requests. Because of overlapping processes, these totals, which include weekends, exceed the actual 419 days that elapsed as of Tuesday since states were to receive their redistricting data.

CENSUS BUREAU: 134 days

The single largest delay in the process was caused by the Census Bureau, whose decennial head count of Americans ran into logistical snags due to the coronavirus pandemic. Those problems began under Republican President Donald Trump and continued under his successor Joe Biden, a Democrat.

Trump initially appeared to support a Census Bureau request to delay the release of redistricting data from March 31 to July 31, 2021. At the time, he said, “This is called an act of God. This is called a situation that has to be. They have to give it.” Later, Republicans in the Senate stymied the request after a memorandum from Trump in the spring, which ordered people in the country illegally be excluded from the apportionment count.

Under Biden, the bureau announced states wouldn't get redistricting data until Sept. 30. Ohio sued. Republican Attorney General Dave Yost accused the now-Democratic administration of trying “to drag its feet and bog this down in court.” A settlement promised the information by Aug. 16, 2021. It arrived Aug. 12. State-hired experts turned the data around to lawmakers within a day.

GOP LAWMAKERS: 81 days

Lawmakers were to begin drawing a new congressional map right away. They didn't. After Democrats nixed a GOP proposal to constitutionally delay Ohio's redistricting timeline, majority Republicans chose to run out the clock on their part of the congressional mapmaking process, eating up 48 days. Later, House Republicans created a map on a Sunday and held it back until a public hearing that Wednesday. After the map was tossed, the Legislature had another 30 days to act. It did not.

REDISTRICTING COMMISSION: 103 days

The special map-drawing commission created by Ohio voters convened Aug. 6, 2021, to be ready for census information to drop the following week. Once the data arrived, though, the commission often wasn't in a hurry, public records show.

With Republican legislative leaders often holding sway, commission lags included 10 days between the census data's arrival and the first field hearing on legislative maps, six days spent responding to court deadlines and a combined 43 days between various court rulings and its subsequent public activity. The tally also includes 28 days of inaction before approval of the first congressional map and 16 days of inaction before beginning its part of the work on a second map.

Albeit, during the latter delay, the commission was at work fixing invalidated legislative maps and under tight court deadlines. But the lapse on congressional maps is still included here, since earlier legislative and commission inaction contributed to the overlap.

INTEREST GROUPS: 39 days

This total includes elapsed days between commission map approvals and the lawsuits or objections next filed by Democratic and voting rights groups, including the National Democratic Redistricting Committee led by former Attorney General Eric Holder, the ACLU, League of Women Voters, Ohio Organizing Collaborative and others. The AP’s total for lawyer-related delays excludes happenings in a related federal lawsuit.

After a 20-day lag between the commission's second congressional map and the filing of the ACLU's objection, GOP Secretary of State Frank LaRose — the state’s elections chief and a redistricting commissioner — accused national Democrats and the Biden administration of a “time-eating litigation strategy” and Supreme Court justices of “dawdling.”

When the League suspended its challenge to the congressional maps, it pointed back to Republicans' control of the calendar.

“Even we had no idea that after we won time and time and time again in court, that we would still see this play of running out the clock,” Executive Director Jen Miller told reporters. “But that’s what they’ve done. And it’s awful, it’s gross, in my opinion.”

LEGAL ARGUMENTS: 183 days

The court wrangling is the most difficult to quantify, and the most inflated by overlaps in the congressional and legislative cases. It also begs questions involving blame. Are the suing parties responsible for these growing time spans? Are justices, who control briefing timetables? Or are commissioners responsible, after twice returning identical or near-identical maps to the court?

Here, the AP opted to include days of court activity that preceded oral arguments in the two redistricting fights, as well as periods of volleying briefs not easily attributable to a single group. Together, that added to 183 days — and counting.

Dockets show that, as opposing parties jockeyed for legal advantage, the Republicans' public attacks over timing lags often conflicted with their lawyers' arguments in court against haste. On both legislative and congressional maps, attorneys for the commission and for Republican officeholders who sit on the panel fought expedited evidence-gathering and briefing schedules, and maximized deadline windows provided to them by the court.

After chastising the 20-day ACLU delay objecting to congressional maps, and seeing the court punt arguments in the congressional case beyond the May 3 primary, LaRose told the court there “is simply no reason to expedite” the schedule. “Petitioners seem to doubt whether this Court can efficiently adjudicate their claims under a normal schedule,” he wrote. Republican legislative leaders told the court the “quick schedule” that litigants proposed would only “confuse voters.”

JUSTICES: 95 days

Ohio Supreme Court deliberations on redistricting cases had consumed 95 days, as of Tuesday. That represents time between oral arguments or various briefing deadlines and justices' final rulings. Like the redistricting commission, justices oftentimes were working two separate map processes simultaneously, but the days are counted here as distinct.

The longest lag was the 35 days it took the court to rule on the commission's first set of legislative maps. In that decision, majority justices gave commissioners just 10 days to come up with new maps. The timing irony angered Statehouse Republicans, who later would begin talking about impeaching Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, a fellow Republican. Subsequent rulings invalidating legislative and congressional maps have generally taken about two weeks. A decision on the latest round of legislative maps could come this week.

PUBLIC: 64 days

When all regional information-gathering sessions, legislative hearings, commission meetings and livestreamed mapmaking are combined, public activity on Ohio's new political maps took place on just 64 days. Granted, alongside those opportunities for public input, the commission's website was accepting independent map proposals all along the way. But an accounting of the days spent on Ohio's protracted redistricting process finds average Ohioans got less time than census number-crunchers, politicians, lawyers or justices.

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