By Andrew Chung
(Reuters) – A group of Democratic voters asked a federal court on Wednesday to throw out a Republican-drawn map of Ohio’s 16 U.S. House of Representatives districts, saying the boundaries were devised to entrench Republicans in power in violation of the voters’ constitutional rights.
Democratic voters from all of the districts filed suit in Cincinnati against Ohio Governor John Kasich and other Republican state officials over a practice called partisan gerrymandering. The U.S. Supreme Court is due by the end of June to issue major rulings in two partisan gerrymandering cases from Wisconsin and Maryland that could affect the Ohio suit.
The plaintiffs said the suit is not likely to impact the Ohio electoral map for November’s mid-term elections in which Democrats are trying to seize control of the House and Senate from Republicans, but aims instead for the 2020 congressional election.
The Ohio congressional maps, crafted after the 2010 U.S. census, have been in use since 2012. The plaintiffs in the case contend the Republican-controlled legislature drew the maps in order to lessen the clout of voters with Democratic leanings.
Ohio has not had a challenge to its electoral map until now on the issue of partisan bias, said lawyer Alora Thomas-Lundborg of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs, also including the A. Philip Randolph Institute union organization and the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said the manner in which the map was devised has amplified the voting power of Republican voters, allowing that party to win in 12 of the 16 House districts in the last three congressional elections. Despite holding 75 percent of the seats, Republicans captured only between 51 and 59 percent of the statewide vote.
The plaintiffs said the current map violates their rights to freedom of association and speech under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, and the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law.
Though Kasich signed Ohio’s congressional map into law in 2011, he has more recently spoken out against partisan gerrymandering. Last September, he and more than a dozen other current and former Republican politicians filed a brief at the Supreme Court calling gerrymandering “devastating for our democracy.”
Ohio voters this month approved a ballot measure that would put future redrawing of congressional district maps in the hands of a bipartisan commission if Ohio’s General Assembly cannot pass a plan supported by both parties. That process does not affect any election until 2022.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)