Commentary

Ohio GOP gerrymanderers living in opposite world where fair maps are ‘the real gerrymandering’

February 24, 2022 3:20 am

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The games continued Wednesday as the Ohio Redistricting Commission met with possible contempt charges from the Ohio Supreme Court hanging over their heads.

Majority Republicans seem to have latched onto the disingenuous argument that drawing proportionally safe Democratic seats constitutes gerrymandering.

What makes their argument disingenuous is their full knowledge that any map drawn will require certain districts to be safe for Democrats and certain districts to be safe for Republicans. What they seem to want to ignore is that proportionality and gerrymandering is judged by maps taken as a whole.

They would have us believe it’s impossible to draw constitutional maps closely resembling the 54/46 Republican-to-Democratic split of voter preferences as averaged over the last 10 years in statewide elections. It’s not.

An ideal map would have near 54% to 46% proportionally fair numbers of safe GOP/safe Dem districts, even numbers of lean-GOP/lean-Dem districts maintaining proportionality, and even numbers of <51% favored toss-up districts — preferably as many of these truly competitive toss-up districts as possible.

Safe districts by their nature unduly favor one party, but drawing fair maps require a certain proportional number of districts be drawn safe and lean, and doing so may well disadvantage some incumbents. If the numbers are proportional overall and competitive districts even, so what? Tough.

If Ohioans want a system that does away with all these boundary dilemmas, they could always push for constitutional adoption of a proportional representation framework, with a party list system, alternative vote system or something else.

But given the Ohio Constitution as it stands now, this is not doctoral-level quantum mechanics. The only thing that makes it complicated are politicians playing power games, trying with all their might to serve themselves instead of the public.

How is this manifesting itself? They’ve gone on a laughable and absurd excursion into opposite world:

The real gerrymandering is not the maps a bipartisan Ohio Supreme Court majority has repeatedly rejected as unconstitutional gerrymandering, but rather any maps that match the proportional split of Ohio voter preferences.

The real gerrymandering is not entrenching incumbents in districts they can’t possibly lose, but rather it’s making some incumbents face competitive and/or difficult elections.

The real racial gerrymandering is not carving out largely Black portions of Hamilton County into a district with largely white, rural Republican southwestern Ohio counties; it’s the possibility of a Black candidate winning a district that includes some rural, white Republicans.

The voters didn’t understand what they were voting for when 71% and 75% of them passed redistricting reform in 2015 and 2018 to stop gerrymandering, and even if they did their predominant concern was compactness not fairness.

A bipartisan majority of the Ohio Supreme Court is a liberal activist court.

Opposite world.

When you begin with rigged districts that have disproportionately loaded the game for one party, and you move to maps that are actually proportional, it’s inevitable that some of the incumbents who have enjoyed the fruits of rigged districts will lose their seats — if none did, gerrymandering reform would be meaningless.

They’ve also been pointing to Democrats in Maryland, Oregon, or New York gerrymandering themselves, as though that’s some kind of defense for their own atrocious behavior.

All gerrymandering is cheating. All gerrymandering is toxic. All gerrymandering is anti-democratic and un-American, no matter who is doing it, Democrats or Republicans. It pushes politicians to extremes and opens the door to corruption.

Those Democrats in other states are betraying their voters, and they should be held to account and duly lose proportional numbers of their own respective incumbents as well.

Clamoring that “the other guys do it too” is a massive rationalization for betraying any sense of personal virtue to knowingly do the wrong thing. It’s a race to the bottom.

We live in Ohio. They are Ohio’s elected leaders. Either they serve the public, the voters, and the constitution, or they betray Ohioans and dishonor themselves, no matter what anybody else does in any other state.

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David DeWitt
David DeWitt

OCJ Editor-in-Chief David DeWitt has more than 15 years experience covering Ohio government, politics and policy, including education, health care, crime and courts, poverty, state and local government, business, labor, energy, environment, and social issues. He has worked for the National Journal, The New York Observer, The Athens NEWS, and Plunderbund.com. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and is a board member of the E.W. Scripps Society of Alumni and Friends. He can be found on Twitter @DC_DeWitt.

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