COLUMBUS, Ohio — SEPTEMBER 20: The Ohio Redistricting Commission meeting, September 20, 2023, in the Lobby Hearing Room at the James A. Rhodes Office Tower in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original article.)
It should be abundantly clear to all fair-minded Ohioans at this point that politicians have no business being involved in the redistricting process after lawmakers used the latest round of Ohio House and Senate district mapmaking to strike a bipartisan deal that amounts to little more than gerrymandered horse-trading.
Fittingly under the cover of darkness late Tuesday night, Ohio Republican and Democratic politicians conducted a shrewd, self-serving negotiation to once again gerrymander Ohio’s Statehouse maps in behalf of their own short-term political power interests, instead of all working earnestly toward fair, representative maps.
Ohio Democratic commissioners had a choice of whether to get whatever they could for now and hope voters pass reform, or to get raked by Republicans on the commission with worse maps than we have now, but this time likely destined to be rubber-stamped by a partisan right-wing Ohio Supreme Court. They chose the former.
The Ohio Redistricting Commission’s bipartisan agreement among politicians show a Republican advantage of 61 to 38 in the Ohio House under the new map, with eight competitive Democratic toss-up seats and three competitive GOP toss-ups.
In the Ohio Senate, the new map shows a 23 to 10 Republican advantage, with three competitive Republican toss-up seats and one competitive Democratic toss-up seat.
Compare this to Ohio’s current unconstitutionally gerrymandered maps forced upon voters in 2022. Before the 2022 Election, the current gerrymandered districts showed a Republican advantage in 56 House seats. In the Ohio House, all 19 competitive districts under the current maps were Democratic, with zero competitive Republican districts.
That meant that Democrats had to spend money and resources in 19 House districts and win every single one in order to maximize their House seats. Republicans didn’t have to “defend” a single seat, and could focus all of their money and resources on “pick-ups” — taking seats that lean Democratic on-paper.
The Republicans’ unconstitutionally partisan mapmaking paid off. The 2022 Election saw Ohio Republicans winning 67 state House seats.
In the Ohio Senate under the current maps, Republicans before the election looked to hold an edge in 18 Senate seats, and there were seven competitive toss-ups. Republicans ended up winning 26 Senate seats last November, while Democrats won seven seats total.
So what are we looking at here with Tuesday night’s agreement among the bipartisan politicians?
Democrats don’t have to spend the money and resources to defend nearly as many seats in the Ohio House. Instead of defending 19 seats, they will be defending eight seats and targeting three GOP seats. Essentially, their political resource management and allocation will be easier. Same thing in the Senate. They will be able to focus their resources on attempting to defend one seat and to pick up three GOP seats.
Best case scenario for Democrats under the new maps: They pick-up six Senate seats total over their current number of seven, for a 20-13 Republican chamber; and/or they pick up nine seats total in the Ohio House over their current 32 seats by protecting their eight competitive seats and winning three GOP-leaning targets, for a 58-41 Republican chamber.
That best case scenario for Democrats would break the GOP’s supermajorities; however, if Democrats were to not win the competitive Republican-leaning seats, the GOP would retain supermajorities of 61-38 in the Ohio House and 23-10 in the Ohio Senate.
The best case scenario for Republicans would be not only to hold on to their supermajorities, but to win as many competitive Democratic-leaning districts as possible. If they were to defend their three competitive seats and win six out of the eight Dem-leaning competitive districts in the House, for instance, they would retain their current 67-32 advantage. Keep in mind that in 2022, they won 11 Dem-leaning competitive House seats.
So by striking this deal on more gerrymandered maps, Democratic politicians gave themselves an easier time with money and resource allocation in 2024 and a very difficult but still possible shot to take away GOP supermajorities, and the GOP gave themselves a good chance to retain their supermajorities in both chambers while still having the opportunity to possibly expand them even further than the maps suggest now on-paper.
But there’s more.
Beyond this gerrymandered horse-trading on the Ohio House and Senate numbers, Democrats are indicating they are putting faith in the idea that the impact of gerrymandering lessens over time as the data used to draw the maps become outdated — so this deal prevents the GOP from both punishing Democrats severely right now, and from coming back for another redraw with fresh data to more efficiently gerrymander the maps again. Democrats also advocated Tuesday night for 2024 anti-gerrymandering reform, indicating they see this deal as a stop-gap measure before real reforms can take place thanks to voters.
Republicans meanwhile have obtained a strong political cudgel to wield against that very effort to replace the Ohio Redistricting Commission made up of politicians with an Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission that kicks the politicians out of the process. Republicans will say that the process worked, they obtained bipartisan agreement just as voters in 2015 intended with redistricting reform, that these maps are not gerrymandered, and in 2024, they’ll say something along the lines of, “Far-left special interests want to hijack the constitution and put power in the hands of unelected bureaucrats.”
This process did not work.
Redistricting in Ohio has been a two-year travesty with an ignominious conclusion for everyone involved, Republican and Democratic politicians alike.
The prevailing motivation of every politician Tuesday night was shrewd political self-interest, not sacred obligation and duty to the public.
No matter what anybody thinks of the advantages or disadvantages of the deal that was struck, it’s clear that these incentives for political horse-trading must be removed.
The only incentive for mapmakers should be fair and representative maps that evenly maximize competitiveness.
The way to remove these bad incentives to make these kind of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t deals is to kick all of these politicians out of the process.
Whether it’s partisan or bipartisan, gerrymandering must end. On Tuesday night in Ohio, it did not.
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