Hello, and Happy Thursday,
Over the last few months, we’ve seen lawmakers in several states draw new, distorted political districts that entrench their political power for the next decade. Republicans are carving up Texas, North Carolina and Georgia to hold on to their majorities. Democrats have the power to draw maps in far fewer places, but they’ve also shown a willingness to use it where they have it, in places like Illinois and Maryland.
But something uniquely disturbing is happening in Ohio.
Republicans control the legislature there and recently enacted new maps that would give them a supermajority in the state legislature and allow them to hold on to at least 12 of the state’s 15 congressional seats. It’s an advantage that doesn’t reflect how politically competitive Ohio is: Donald Trump won the state in 2020 with 53% of the vote.
What’s worse is that Ohio voters have specifically enacted reforms in recent years that were supposed to prevent this kind of manipulation. Republicans have completely ignored them. It underscores how challenging it is for reformers to wrest mapmaking power from politicians.
“It’s incredibly difficult to get folks to say, ‘OK, we’re just gonna do this fairly after years and years and decades and decades of crafting districts that favor one political party,’” Catherine Turcer, the executive director of the Ohio chapter of Common Cause, a government watchdog group that backed the reforms, told me earlier this year. “I did not envision this being as shady.”
In 2015 and 2018, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved two separate constitutional amendments that were meant to make mapmaking fairer. The 2015 amendment dealt with drawing state legislative districts and gave a seven-person panel, comprised of elected officials from both parties, power to draw districts. If the panel couldn’t agree on new maps, they would only be in effect for four years, as opposed to the usual 10.
The 2018 amendment laid out a slightly different process for drawing congressional districts, but the overall idea was the same. Both reforms also said districts could not unfairly favor or disfavor a political party.
Something started to seem amiss earlier this fall when the panel got to work trying to create the new state legislative districts. The two top Republicans in the legislature wound up drawing the maps in secret, shutting their fellow GOP members out of the process. After reaching an impasse with Democrats, Republicans on the panel approved a plan that gives the GOP a majority in the state legislature for the next four years.
When it came time to draw congressional maps, things did not go much better. The panel barely even attempted to fulfill its mission, kicking mapmaking power back to the state legislature. Lawmakers there quickly enacted the congressional plan that benefits the GOP for the next four years.
The new map benefits the GOP by cracking Democratic-heavy Hamilton county, home of Cincinnati, into three different congressional districts, noted the Cook Political Report. It also transforms a district in northern Ohio, currently represented by Democrat Marcy Kaptur, the longest serving woman in Congress, from one Joe Biden carried by 19 points in 2020 to one Trump would have carried by 5 points.
The maps already face several lawsuits, and their fate will ultimately be decided by the Ohio supreme court. Republicans have a 4-3 advantage on the court, though one of the GOP justices is considered a swing vote. We’ll soon see if voter-approved reforms will be completely defanged.
Please continue to write to me each week with your questions about elections and voting at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Twitter at @srl and I’ll try to answer as many as I can.