Here’s what you need to know about redistricting in Ohio
Members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission are sworn in at the Ohio Statehouse. From left, Senate President Matt Huffman, state Auditor Keith Faber, House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, House Speaker Bob Cupp and Sen. Vernon Sykes. Photo by Susan Tebben
On Aug. 12, the U.S. Census Bureau provided the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico with population counts to use in their redrawing of the electoral district boundaries for representation in Congress, state legislatures, and many county and municipal offices — a process also known as “redistricting.” In Ohio, this process has the added complication of needing to whittle Ohio’s congressional delegation from the current 16 seats, down to 15, in order to compensate for our stagnating population.
As the once-in-a-decade redistricting process begins in our community, elected officials have an obligation to ensure that the electoral district boundaries in Ohio are drawn in a way that follows the spirit of the redistricting reforms passed via constitutional amendments in 2015 and 2018. Redistricting must ensure fair and equal representation for all people, upholding the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection, complying with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and promoting representational fairness as required in Section 6 of Ohio’s constitutional process for drawing district lines.
The Ohio Redistricting Commission has commenced a series of regional hearings to engage with the people of Ohio on what fair districts could look like in the Buckeye state. The Commission will be up against tight deadlines due to the delay in census data resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. Though the ACLU of Ohio recognizes the challenges facing the Commission, that is not an excuse to deviate from the spirit of the reforms passed in 2015 to inject fairness and bipartisanship into a traditionally shrewd and political process.
Historically, instead of drawing congressional and state legislative district boundaries that accurately reflect their population, many states have drawn maps that are not fair. In 2011, Ohio map makers drew legislative districts under the cover of darkness in the now infamous “bunker;” a hotel room adjacent to the Statehouse as to skirt public records and open meetings laws. It’s no surprise that the maps drawn in the bunker, without any public input, cemented one-party control over the Ohio General Assembly and our congressional delegation at the expense of fair elections, and accountable leaders for the people of Ohio.
This practice, also known as gerrymandering, is a dangerous political tactic. Gerrymandering is the practice of manipulating electoral boundaries to give an unfair political advantage to a particular political party or group. Instead of drawing fair maps, bad actors sliced and diced Ohio communities so politicians could pick and choose who they represent. But voters should be choosing their politicians — not the other way around.
Not only does redistricting play a role in the design of the district boundaries for Ohio’s congressional, state legislative, and local offices, it plays a vital role in our communities and will affect our day to day lives for the next decade. The drawing of district lines can dictate not only who runs for public office and who is elected, but also how financial resources are allocated for schools, hospitals, roads and more. Ohio’s elected representatives have the power to make decisions that greatly impact the communities they represent, issues ranging from creating a fairer criminal legal system by adopting bail reform, passing statewide protections for Ohio’s LGBTQ community through the Ohio Fairness Act, and allocating more money for public libraries so our underserved community members can access the tools to build a better life for themselves and their families.
Along with the far-reaching consequences gerrymandering can have on our everyday lives, improper redistricting can result in unequal representation in our voting districts, the dilution of the full voting power of minority voters, and fractured communities. Communities of color, in particular, have faced numerous obstacles to meaningful participation in the political process, including and especially the redistricting process.
The 11th Congressional district, stretching between Cuyahoga and Summit counties, is a grave example of how minority voting strength in Ohio has been diluted. By packing as many minority voters into the 11th District as possible, Ohio’s current gerrymandered map strips our Black and Brown neighbors of their power to elect more than a single representative to Congress.
As redistricting begins nationwide, the ACLU of Ohio will continue to monitor state legislatures and independent commissions across the country to ensure they heed the fundamental principles of democracy, representation, and equality.
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