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Judicial Panel Allowing Ohio Congressional Races to Proceed

April 13, 2022 by Dan McCue
Judicial Panel Allowing Ohio Congressional Races to Proceed
FILE - A bowl of stickers is set out for voters March 15, 2020, in Steubenville, Ohio. Ohio's scheduled primary election is just six weeks away, but candidates still don't know whether the voting contest will happen then. A series of court rulings invalidating Republican-drawn redistricting maps has threatened to delay the state's May 3 primary by a month or more. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Despite ongoing litigation over whether a new congressional district map in Ohio dilutes the minority vote, a three-judge federal panel on Tuesday said it won’t block the certification of votes in the state’s May 3 primary.

In a unanimous decision, Chief U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley, U.S. District Judge Benjamin Beaton, and U.S. Circuit Judge Amul Thapar, sitting by assignment, held a request to toss the congressional district maps being used in the primary “exceeds the scope of their intervention.”

“When this court … permitted the parties to intervene, it made clear that their role in the case is to ensure an appropriate remedy on the underlying dispute over state legislative districts. … The court did not contemplate sweeping congressional redistricting, which is a wholly distinct process, into this lawsuit,” the judges wrote in their opinion.

“Though both varieties of redistricting involve the commission, they are separate tasks, utilizing independent standards and resulting in different district boundaries for General Assembly members versus Congress members,” they continued.

The voters wanted the most recent congressional maps tossed out, arguing Republican mapmakers did not include racial data when drawing district lines, thus discriminating against marginalized Ohioans.

That lawsuit specifically addressed legislative districts, and asked that a legislative map rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court be used in the May 3 primary.

As for the congressional map, which was also crafted and adopted by the GOP-controlled Ohio Redistricting Commission last month, it hasn’t been formally rejected by the state Supreme Court on technical grounds.

Though voters wanted to see that map redrawn as well, the court told them they’d need to file another lawsuit to reinstate the court’s jurisdiction over the new map.

The process then became somewhat more muddy, after the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing some of the plaintiffs in the case, opted to challenge the use of the new map for the 2024 election rather than the current one — which effectively means the new map will be used throughout 2022.

In the meantime, early and absentee voting is underway in Ohio. On Tuesday, with three weeks to go before the May 3 primary, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced that 71,296 absentee ballots have been requested by mail or in person and that 11,935 votes have been cast statewide.

So far, LaRose said Tuesday, Republicans are leading Democrats in both the number of absentee ballots requested — 35,045 to 34,830 (with independent nonpartisan voters getting 1,421) — and in ballots cast early in person — 5,181 for Republicans compared to 4,606 for Democrats — while 150 nonpartisan voters also voted.

The legal wrangling over the congressional district map focuses primarily on the new 6th Congressional District, which encompasses a portion of Youngstown, Ohio, and extends south to Marietta, Ohio.

While the congressional primary is proceeding, state representative and senator races are not on the ballot because those maps remain in legal limbo.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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