Voting rights advocates urged the Ohio Supreme Court to hold members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission in contempt of court on Tuesday, accusing the Republican majority of the map-drawing body of running out the clock to secure a more favorable map.
“Throughout this litigation, respondents have repeatedly flouted this court’s express orders, and they now continue to disobey its clear and constitutionally authorized directives,” reads the motion, which was filed by advocates including the League of Women Voters of Ohio and individual voters. “They are doing so again, by refusing to convene and initiate the map-drawing process.”
The Ohio Supreme Court has threatened contempt proceedings over redistricting in the past, but has yet to pull the trigger. The motion comes as the state court’s deadline for new maps inches closer.
Democrats on the Ohio Redistricting Commission invited their Republican colleagues to meet on Monday morning, though under commission rules, the two Democrats lack the power to actually call a meeting and Republicans declined the invitation.
“We only have 10 days left, so we are here to demonstrate that we are ready, able, and prepared to continue the work,” commission co-chair and Democratic state Sen. Vernon Sykes told reporters on Monday, referring to a deadline set by the Ohio Supreme Court.
The failed effort — punctuated by locked doors to the room where Democrats had hoped to meet — is the latest in state’s chaotic redistricting process, where dueling court orders have splintered the state’s legislative map-drawing process even further.
Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court rejected a fourth set of legislative maps and demanded the commission reconvene and draw another pair of maps by May 6. But last week, a federal court said they’d allow the state to use a the third set of maps, which had been passed by Republicans, if a compromise was not reached by May 28.
That order made clear the court was taking action to ensure that some form of elections would take place despite the dysfunctional map-drawing process, but the ruling appeared to offer Republican commissioners an off-ramp toward a preferred map — and an incentive not to act.
“The consequences of this foot-dragging are not just delay; they are likely dispositive,” advocates wrote in their Tuesday morning filing. “Failure to enact a map within this court’s prescribed timeline may result in the use of the invalidated third plan for the upcoming 2022 General Assembly election.”
Republican commissioners did not respond to requests for comment from NBC News and have so far been mum on their plans.
During the fourth redistricting process, the state Supreme Court said members of the commission had intentionally delayed independent mapmakers hired to draw state legislative maps. Then, as the mapmakers struggled to complete their maps before a court-ordered deadline, Republican members of the commission proposed and passed a map a Republican staffer had worked up.
“The commission’s strategy is readily apparent — it is continuing to run out the clock to prevent any meaningful bipartisan collaboration on a redistricting plan,” the petitioners wrote in their motion. “The court should not allow the commission to intentionally avoid its constitutional obligations.”