Ohio redistricting has been characterized by aggressive gerrymanders for the last several cycles, but with a new system that was to help “un-gerrymander” the state; has it fallen flat on its promises? The drama that has unfolded in the 2020 redistricting cycle has not been seen in any other state.
The Hope for Change
In 2018, Ohio Voters overwhelmingly approved new changes to the state’s congressional redistricting process. This proposed amendment to the Constitution promised to:
- End the partisan process for drawing congressional districts, and replace it with a process promoting bipartisanship, keeping communities together, and having districts be more compact.
- Ensure a transparent process by mandating public hearings and allowing public proposals.
- Require the Legislature or Redistricting Commission to adopt new districts via a bipartisan vote for the plan to be valid for a full 10 year period
- Mandate that if a plan is adopted by the Legislature without bipartisan support, it cannot be effective for 10 years and must meet stricter antigerrymandering requirements.
The amendment passed overwhelmingly, winning every county in the state and garnering 75% of the vote. Similarly, in 2015 an amendment to create a bipartisan state legislative redistricting commission passed overwhelmingly.
Though the amendment called for the establishment of a bipartisan commission, there were several asterisks to this actually happening.
The State Legislature first has the power to redraw the state’s congressional districts if 3/5 of the House of Representatives and Senate combined vote for it. Additionally, 1/2 of the minority party members of the legislature must also vote for it to be active for a full 10 years. If the Legislature can’t adopt a map, a commission is formed consisting of the Governor, State Auditor, Secretary of State, and four legislators (two of which come from the minority party).
A majority of the commission (including two members of the minority party) must vote in order for a map to be active for 10 years. If the commission is unable to adopt a map, the job goes back to the State Legislature.
Maps adopted via both of these methods resulted in no bipartisan support.
Things in the state legislative commission weren’t looking any better, requiring a bipartisan vote that was never obtained.
A Repeating Process
The task fell to the republican dominated Ohio Legislature to create a map by September 30 with bipartisan support, since they were not able to meet this deadline, the task fell to the new bipartisan commission, which did adopt a map – that passed along party lines. It was widely viewed as an egregious gerrymander. It resulted in two solidly Democratic seats, two highly competitive and marginal Democratic seats, and 11 solidly Republican seats. A lawsuit was brought before the Ohio Supreme Court in which they ruled the congressional map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor republicans. Of the seven-member court, three Democrats and Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor voted to strike down the map, while the other three Republicans voted to uphold it.
The task then went back to the Ohio Redistricting Commission to create a new map meeting court expectations: a 54%-46% Republican-Democrat split. The commission didn’t meet an October deadline, so the task went once again to the State Legislature. They instead proposed and adopted a map in which barely anything was changed. The Ohio Supreme Court once again heard a lawsuit, in which they ruled the map was once again unconstitutionally gerrymandered. The Legislature stated it would be impossible to meet the criteria made by the Supreme Court, and passed a new gerrymandered map with the same result. A new lawsuit had to be filed due to the map being new, and the whole situation restarted itself.
Eventually, legislative Republicans were able to play out the clock and have their map upheld for the 2022 elections. As per redistricting rules though, a new map must be created in 2025.
State Legislative maps were proposed, adopted, and thrown out by the Supreme Court a total of five times. A rinse and repeat process – with maps being ruled as unconstitutional and miniscule changes being made to try and meet expectations made by the Supreme Court. The same story played out with legislative maps as it did with congressional maps.
The Consistent Failure of Ohio Redistricting
Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, in her individual opinion on the first congressional lawsuit stated that if voters were frustrated with the redistricting process, they had the power to create a ballot initiative to attempt to fix it.
Ohio’s 2020 redistricting has been widely viewed as an immense failure. The constant rinsing and repeating for both congressional and legislative districts has renewed a topic within the state – how to solve the consistent gerrymandering.
Many view the redistricting amendments as a failure, but for the meantime; this is the process in Ohio.