Gerrymandering 101

Gerrymandering 101

Gone are the days when the voters elected their politicians. Today we find ourselves in a country where politicians chose their constituents. This practice, known as gerrymandering, draws the boundaries of electoral districts in a way that gives one political party an unfair advantage over its rivals.

Gerrymandering is not new in politics. Its roots go back to the 1800s, when politicians first engaged in drawing their voting district maps. This was done to make it easier to win elections.

The name is derived from Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, who signed a bill in 1813 to redistrict the Boston area. The Republican legislators sponsoring the bill wanted to redraw voting lines so the “Federalist vote was concentrated in a few districts while the Republican vote was spread over many.”

Because the shape of the district map was likened to a salamander, the term gerrymandering was adopted to identify the political tactic used to this day.

In 2015, a bipartisan measure to tackle gerrymandering (Issue 1), was placed on the ballot and passed with the support of 71 percent of Ohio voters. Then in 2018, Senator Matt Huffman (R-Lima) introduced Senate Joint Resolution 5 (SJR5). This legislation established a process for congressional redistricting reforms. It passed through the Ohio House and Senate and was placed on the ballot in May 2018, where it was overwhelmingly approved by Ohio voters. It passed in all 88 counties with 74.85 percent of the vote. This sent a message to Ohio politicians that regardless of political party, Ohio voters want fair districts.

Many of you may have seen yard signs or read something in the local news about the ongoing Ohio redistricting process. Several other states are also in the process of drawing new boundary lines to determine new voting districts. “The U.S. constitution requires that states redraw district lines to make sure the new population numbers are reflected in our congressional and state representatives’ districts.”

All states take part in redistricting using data from the 2020 Census. The process differs slightly in each state. Ohio relies on a seven-member redistricting commission to help adopt new maps for our state house and senate districts or general assembly districts.

Before the process was even started it was skewed. Many citizens noted there were only two Democrats on the seven-member commission, 29 percent of the commission, even though 45 percent of Ohio’s voters are registered as Democrats.

There are different rules for drawing the maps for the General Assembly Districts and the Congressional Districts. If you look at the maps for each, you will see the boundaries differ greatly.

Ohio has 15 congressional districts and hence 15 representatives for Congress. I live near Uhrichsville and I am in Congressional District 6, whereas our son lives in New Philadelphia and is in CD 7, the map basically cuts Tuscarawas County in two pieces.

The lines for CD 6 are indeed an example of gerrymandering as they skirt along the Ohio River and cut through several counties. One of the most gerrymandered districts in the state is District 4 which resembles a duck. It starts in Lorain County and goes southwest to end just above Columbus.

The League of Women Voters and the ACLU sued Ohio in 2018 over the map of congressional districts. A federal district court reviewed several districts including District 4 and ruled the gerrymandering in them was unconstitutional. However, in June 2019, the Supreme Court made a decision in the case of Rucho v. Common Cause, which essentially threw out the previous decision and kept gerrymandering in place.

The maps for Ohio State Senate and Ohio State Representatives resemble puzzle pieces, especially in the regions around large cities. This practice, drawing puzzle piece maps, violates the concept of “compactness.” Some districts have pieces of other districts within them, like an island. This is also a form of gerrymandering.

There are other ways maps can be drawn to favor one party over the other, but regardless of the tactics used, gerrymandering is a way for politicians to “pick” their constituents.

Often politicians know in advance the possible outcomes for various pieces of legislation because they know who they picked to be in that district. It is like asking a group of women whose favorite color is blue to choose between wearing a blue or a pink dress. You can already guess the outcome of that decision.

Ohio embarked on the process of drawing new maps this summer. Public meetings were held at various locations around the state for General Assembly Districts. The seven-member commission includes two members each from the largest two political parties.

The commission was made up of Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Gov. Mike DeWine, State Auditor Keith Faber, Sen. Vernon Sykes, Senate President Matt Huffman, House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes and House Speaker Bob Cupp. The two members from the Democratic party are also from the same family. No other political parties were allowed to take part in the process.

The outcome of the weeks-long process was not what the people of Ohio had envisioned. Instead of getting fair districts, they got another set of maps that were indeed gerrymandered.

The two Democrats voted against the maps while the five Republican commission members voted for the maps. Without bi-partisan support, the maps will only be viable for four years rather than 10, so the process will have to be performed again in four years.

Governor DeWine admitted the maps were “flawed” and possibly “unconstitutional” yet he still voted for them. To date there have been three lawsuits filed against the new maps claiming them to be “unconstitutional.”

Some of the groups involved include The Ohio Environmental Council, The Ohio Organizing Collaborative, the Ohio Chapter of the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union.

It is not surprising that Ohio Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine, the son of Governor Mike DeWine, who voted for the new maps, refuses to recuse himself from these lawsuits. To coin a popular phrase, “How do you know when politicians are lying? Their mouths are moving.” This is the case in Ohio.

If you are concerned about gerrymandering you can join members of Fair Districts Ohio as they protest at the office of the Secretary of State, in Columbus from noon to 1 p.m. Oct. 25-28.

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