Legislative redistricting lawsuits develop; Dems/GOP move on congressional maps

By: - November 3, 2021 12:40 am

Common Cause Ohio executive director Catherine Turcer, at right, presents maps proposed by the Fair Districts Ohio Coalition, held at left by Trevor Martin. The coalition presented maps to the Ohio Redistricting Commission on Oct. 28 in its only meeting before the Oct. 31 deadline for the ORC to approve maps. Photo by Susan Tebben, OCJ.

In a brief last week, the city of Cincinnati told the Ohio Supreme Court they agree with challengers of legislative redistricting maps, saying the city is “home to several of the most aggressively gerrymandered districts in the state of Ohio.”

“In each of these areas, Cincinnati residents find that their vote counts for less than it should — all because they live in a ‘packed’ or ‘cracked’ district designed to yield victory to a specific party,” attorneys for the city said.

Like previous arguments made in the three lawsuits asking the court to reject legislative redistricting maps approved in September without bipartisan support, Cincinnati leaders say the provision of Article XI, Section 6 of the Ohio Constitution, which requires maps to be drawn using the statewide preferences of voters in Ohio, is “critical.”

“When that promise is broken, all Ohioans suffer — but voters in gerrymandered districts suffer most,” the city stated in its brief to the court. “These voters, Cincinnati voters, are denied an equal voice in state politics.”

The city said the approved maps “pack” and “crack” Cincinnati residents. Packing and cracking is often a term used when minority groups are either packed into the fewest amount of districts to lessen their voting power across the state, or cracked into different districts to dilute their voting power. Often this can happen in urban areas with large populations.

In this case, Cincinnati said the packing results in districts “packed full of voters from the disadvantaged party,” and cracking districts to “purposefully break up disadvantaged-party voting blocks in the multiple different districts.”

“Further analysis shows that where mapmakers could not ‘pack’ Black Cincinnati voters, they ‘cracked’ Black communities instead,” the court brief stated.

House Districts in the Hamilton County area, shown on the Ohio Redistricting Commission-approved maps.

Specifically, the city said Hamilton County House districts 24 and 25 are packed with “likely Democratic voters, ensuring that adjacent Districts 27, 29 and 30 all lean safely Republican.”

In Montgomery County, House District 38 is also “packed with Democrats,” leaving districts 35 and 39 “safely Republican,” the brief stated.

As they stand, the maps would project Republican wins in three of seven seats in and around Hamilton County, and four of five in Montgomery County, Cincinnati leaders stated.

With such control over district lines, legislators have the power to override local governments.

“Gerrymandering suppresses the voice of Cincinnati residents twice-over: first when maps are drawn to systemically ‘waste’ their votes, and then again when the gerrymandered legislature preempts local action on the issues closest to voters’ hearts,” according to the brief.

As the legislative lawsuits continue, congressional redistricting is seeing signs of light within the Ohio Senate.

Three bills are in committee on Wednesday and Thursday regarding congressional districts, two “intent” bills from the GOP, and another from Democrats to “establish congressional district boundaries,” specifically the district boundaries laid out in the Democratic map proposed on Sept. 30, right before the initial deadline set for the legislature to approve maps.

House Republicans are introducing a bill in the House Government Oversight Committee on Wednesday to “declare the General Assembly’s intent to enact legislation establishing congressional district boundaries for the state based on the 2020 decennial census.”

The Ohio Senate Dems proposed congressional district map.

The Senate GOP is also proposing an intent bill that more simply intends to “establish Congressional districts,” but neither Republican-sponsored bill includes any detail as to how they plan to establish districts or enact legislation.

The Dem-supported Senate Bill 237, co-sponsored by the co-chair of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, state Sen. Vernon Sykes, and the Senate GOP-sponsored “intent” bill, Senate Bill 258, are both scheduled to be considered in the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee.

All three bills are set for second hearings in their respective hearings on Thursday, when public comment will start on the bills.

The legislative effort comes after the Ohio Redistricting Commission took no action to approve a map or bring up a proposed map to consider during the month they took over the congressional effort.

The ORC held one meeting during the month of October, during which they heard proposals from anti-gerrymandering organizations and public citizens, but did not make any decisions on the issue.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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