Last week the Ohio Redistricting Commission enacted maps reflecting new electoral district boundaries. As the first state in the nation to pass statewide maps this year, Ohio had a promising opportunity to show the country what fairly apportioned electoral district boundaries look like. Instead, the state of Ohio presented a map that was grossly gerrymandered and far from fair. That’s why the ACLU filed a lawsuit this week challenging the Ohio state legislative map as unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.
Many states, like Ohio, have used the redistricting process to manipulate electoral boundaries to their political advantage — a practice known as gerrymandering — and to the great disadvantage of voters. It’s a dangerous political practice in which bad actors slice and dice our communities so politicians can pick and choose who they represent. Resulting in politicians who are not accountable to wider population, because they do not have to be. Voters should be choosing their politicians — not the other way around.
Historically, partisan gerrymandering is the practice of drawing district lines to favor one party over another, and the new Ohio map does exactly that. Sadly, this is not new to the state of Ohio. In 2011, the state legislative maps were drawn in secrecy, without public oversight or Democratic party participation (despite a nominally bipartisan process), in a location referred to as “the bunker.” Under that map, Republicans maintained a hammerlock on supermajority status from 2012 to 2020.
That’s why Ohioans, on Nov. 3, 2015 with a 71 percent majority, approved a constitutional amendment to Article XI of the Ohio Constitution with the goal of preventing exactly what happened this week. Among other things, this amendment created a bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission which would consist of seven members, including at least two opposition party members. The current commission is composed of five Republicans and two Democrats. After the adoption of the map, even Ohio Auditor Keith Faber, Ohio Sec. of State Frank LaRose, and Gov. Mike DeWine, all Republican commission members, expressed frustration with this year’s mapmaking process, citing concerns about a “partisan process”.
Further, this year’s newly enacted map draws 67 percent of the House districts and 69 percent of the Senate districts to favor Republicans, assuring Republican veto-proof supermajorities in both chambers. Rather than reflecting voters’ dynamic or evolving preferences, elections under gerrymandered maps like Ohio’s systematically lock in candidates from the legislators’ preferred party, and discourage electoral competition. Politicians from gerrymandered districts are more extreme and polarized than politicians from fair and competitive maps, resulting in policies and laws that do not reflect the will of the voters. For example, despite widespread support for abortion access, free and fair elections, and gun control, the gerrymandered Ohio legislature has consistently acted contrary to the will of the voters.
As redistricting begins nationwide, the ACLU will continue to monitor state legislatures and independent commissions across the country to ensure they heed the Constitution’s fundamental principles of democracy, representation, and equality.