While the U.S. anxiously awaits the results of an extremely close presidential election, the results in Ohio are becoming far more clear.
The long and short of it appears to be:
President Donald Trump has won in Ohio (by an eight point margin, the same spread as 2016, and two points higher than his winning margin in Texas);
Republicans look to have slightly expanded their veto-proof supermajorities in the Ohio Statehouse (though results are still unofficial, and outstanding absentee and provisional ballots must be counted);
Democrats took another Ohio Supreme Court seat (after taking two in 2018) while Republicans successfully defended another, leaving them with a 4-3 majority;
And gerrymandering is running strong in Ohio, with the Statehouse Republican supermajorities not only holding but expanding in spite of the largest political bribery scandal in state history, and all U.S. Congressional district incumbents winning reelection and no seats changing hands for the fifth election cycle in a row.
Republicans continued to make inroads in rural, formerly Democratic-leaning union-supporting areas such as the Mahoning Valley, where they look to flip one Ohio Senate district and one Ohio House district, as well as another Ohio House district along Ohio’s eastern border.
With the Ohio Statehouse Republicans this year repeatedly attacking Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health’s authority to issue public health orders amid the coronavirus pandemic, Ohioans will now have to wait to see what, if anything, the new General Assembly will actually do after taking office in January to limit DeWine’s power.
Also coming down the pike in 2021 is a fresh round of redistricting following the recently completed 2020 U.S. Census. Ohio voters approved redistricting reform for state legislative districts in 2015 and U.S. Congressional districts in 2018, so this will be the first time those reforms will be in place.
In 2011, Republicans created maps in a secretive Double Tree hotel room “bunker” in downtown Columbus that have resulted in wildly effective gerrymandering of Statehouse and U.S. Congressional districts. The Statehouse has not had any change in party control since the maps were instituted.
The fight for control over the Ohio Supreme Court relates to the fight over gerrymandering, which is why Karl Rove got involved in the state high court races this year.
Despite Democrat Jennifer Brunner’s win over Republican incumbent Justice Judith French, Republicans will retain a slim 4-3 majority on the court (down from 5-2 now), and therefore will retain control over all three branches of government in Ohio.
One cause for hope, however, is that Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor came down against the current maps in 2011, with less restrictive constitutional language than the reforms put in place. This means that the Republican majority state high court is no lock to approve more gerrymandered maps.
Here’s how the new Congressional redistricting plan adopted by Ohio voter referendum will work:
- The state legislature would adopt a 10-year redistricting plan with 60% of members in each chamber voting in favor and 50% of Republicans and 50% of Democrats (or whichever two parties have the most members in the legislature) voting in favor.
- Should the state legislature fail to meet these vote requirements, then the seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission (ORC) would get a chance to adopt a 10-year congressional redistricting plan, with support from at least two members of the minority party.
- The members of the ORC are the governor, state auditor, and secretary of state (all Republican), one person appointed by the speaker of the House of Representatives (Republican), one person appointed by the legislative leader of the largest political party in the House of which the speaker is not a member (the Democrats), one person appointed by the president of the Ohio Senate (Republican) and one person appointed by the legislative leader of the largest political party in the Senate of which the president is not a member (the Democrats).
- Should the commission fail to adopt a plan, the legislature would get a second opportunity to adopt a 10-year plan, but with a lesser requirement of one-third of the members from the two major parties supporting the proposal.
- Failure at this stage would result in the legislature adopting a plan through a simple majority vote, with no bipartisan vote requirement but stricter criteria, and with the plan lasting two general election cycles (four years), rather than 10 years.
As for state legislative redistricting, to approve a redistricting plan for 10 years, at least two members from each major political party have to agree to the plan. If the commission fails to pass a plan by a bipartisan vote, members must pass a plan by a simple majority vote of any four members, but this plan only lasts four years. The plan is also legally supposed to forbid favoring one party over the other, even if Republicans decide to shove through four-year maps.
So if lawsuits follow after this process shakes out, the Ohio Supreme Court comes into play. But again, the state high court is no lock for Republicans considering Chief Justice O’Connor’s track record.
Ohio’s 2020 election results appear to have taken shape, and they bode for some very interesting years ahead with a lot at stake. Stay tuned.