Commentary

Ohio’s future is on the line(s) with redistricting in 2021

May 17, 2021 12:20 am

The U.S. Capitol. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The most important issue to face Ohioans in 2021 isn’t even on most of our radar screens. Seriously, when was the last time you dove into the ramifications of redistricting with friends? I get it. Not a sexy subject. The map drawing process to reconfigure district boundaries in the state is complicated. But there’s a reason we citizens voted overwhelmingly in 2015 and 2018 to change how state politicians draw our legislative and congressional district lines every decade.

Call it cancel culture.

The same clowns who constantly decry cancelling someone for saying something offensive, essentially cancelled the voting power of millions of Ohio voters because it was objectionable to one party. So, for ten long years Democratic voters have been muted in congressional districts designed to intentionally dilute their votes before they’re ever cast. For these Ohioans, what happens with redistricting this year is personal. They want their voices back.

Look, drawing new district lines after every census count has always been a partisan exercise. The party in power pours over district maps with laser precision and voter data to advance its goal of staying in power. How to best represent the local population of a district isn’t even on the drawing board. But in 2011, Ohio Republicans took the process of picking voters for politicians to an extreme. They secretly crafted congressional districts so skewed toward one party that general election outcomes were predetermined. 

Talk about rigged elections. Party officials and GOP operatives bizarrely contorted Ohio’s district maps to lock in a majority of congressional seats for Republicans while “packing” Democratic voters into as few districts as possible or “cracking” them into solid Republican districts to neutralize their impact at the polls. That is not conventional redistricting to boost electoral advantage. That is partisan gerrymandering to guarantee electoral results. 

State Republicans engineered 12 geographically insane congressional districts that let party candidates win 75% of the races while earning just over half of the statewide vote. Sound fair to you? Not to a federal court that ruled the district maps unconstitutional in 2019.

“Either Republicans were exceedingly lucky, or their map drawers made exceedingly expert use of political data to manipulate district lines to secure the most seats with the least amount of competition possible,” the court wrote. “The evidence in this case points to the latter conclusion.”

Yet in 2020, the unfair, uncompetitive and unconstitutional congressional districts in Ohio continued to deprive many voters of any real say in who represented them. The fix was in, and the same candidates won in the same districts by the same lopsided margins of victory. Party politicians were safely inoculated from unhappy constituents who might have cancelled them but for gerrymandering.

Ohio U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan wins his 4th District by a 2-to-1 margin every election. The MAGA flamethrower can do or say anything he wants to get on Fox TV and appalled constituents are powerless to demand accountability. The Urbana Republican is so confident of his staying power that he voted to overturn a free and fair election based on lies about widespread voter fraud — after a violent insurrection at the Capitol. He’s absolutely protected by a disproportionate ratio of Republican voters in his district who secure his landslides and cancel any check on his anti-democratic bent.

None of this squares with the core principles of a representative democracy, of course. Under our system of government, citizens, not party bosses, are supposed choose elected officials that reflect the population as a whole. But after the last census count, Ohio Republicans drew some of the most gerrymandered statehouse and congressional maps in the nation, according to an Associated Press analysis. Jordan’s duck-shaped district is arguably the worst in the state. 

It begins just west of Cleveland, stretches more than 100 miles south to suburban Columbus and then bulges northwest near the Indiana border. The 4th District winds through all or parts of 14 counties. Oberlin voters, in the tip of the duck’s bill, can’t remember the last time they saw Jordan — except on TV. But the man lives over three hours away in Champaign County and probably has zero incentive to court constituents in Ohio’s most liberal city. 

Thanks to Ohio voters, new redistricting rules are in place to create fairer, more competitive and more geographically logical congressional districts that also limit the ridiculous slice and dice of counties and communities. And for the first time, the party in power won’t control everything. Republicans need Democratic buy-in to enact a new 10-year map.   

The changes are good, but don’t ever underestimate the gerrymandering chops of the majority party.  Republicans will pour over a zillion different map combinations to maintain control. They’ve already floated amending the state constitution to move deadlines and the notion of passing their own four-year map, without a single Democratic vote, is gaining momentum. All lot could go wrong if we allow their political machinations to fly under the radar.  

So, sexy or not, make the 2021 redistricting fight personal. Take back the power of your vote, Ohio. Look closely at the district maps as soon as they’re available for public input. Question lines separating neighborhoods that don’t make sense. Too much in our fragile democracy is riding on getting this right. Seriously, it’s the most important issue we face.

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Marilou Johanek
Marilou Johanek

Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.

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