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Ohio Proves Politicians Can’t Be Trusted to Draw Voting Maps

Its redistricting commission passed a fifth set of legislative maps that unconstitutionally gerrymander the state.

In the latest installment of Ohio’s redistricting saga, the Ohio Redistricting Commission on Tuesday night unanimously passed new legislative maps that are unconstitutional gerrymanders. For those who have been following the state’s redistricting process so far, this comes as no surprise. It’s the fifth set of maps the commission has drawn since 2021, as all four of its prior attempts were rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court for violating the state constitution’s prohibition against partisan gerrymandering. The commission is comprised of the governor, secretary of state, auditor, and four legislators appointed by legislative leaders.

The commission’s actions are especially outrageous considering that Ohio’s high court had ordered it to produce constitutional maps by June 2022. Now, 16 months after that deadline, its remedial legislative maps still fail to truly reflect voters’ political preferences. Ohioans were already denied fair representation in the 2022 midterms. If the new gerrymandered districts are allowed to stand, the same will be true in 2024.

Who’s to blame for the state’s ongoing redistricting woes? The politicians holding the pen. After initial disagreements about the proposed legislative districts, which would have significantly favored Republicans, the commission — made up of five Republicans and two Democrats — retreated behind closed doors to continue negotiations on Tuesday. When they emerged, all seven members greenlit new maps that largely resembled the originals, without offering an explanation. The one concession that seemingly won over the commission’s Democratic holdouts was making certain competitive districts safer for Democratic incumbents.

Needless to say, hashing out backroom deals outside of public view isn’t how the redistricting process should play out. Ohio’s constitution is clear: district plans shouldn’t play favorites with political parties. But the adopted maps do exactly that. They fall far short of the state constitution’s requirement that the likely distribution of legislative seats closely track the two parties’ share of votes in recent statewide elections, marking yet another instance where partisan politics trumps democratic ideals.

Worse yet, because these maps were passed with bipartisan approval, the state may not be required to redraw district lines in 2025, meaning Ohioans’ voting power could be diluted for the rest of the decade, making meaningful redistricting reforms that much more urgent. Even the commission’s cochair, Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D), conceded that this redistricting cycle “has made it clear that this process does not belong in the hands of politicians.”

But these skewed maps weren’t adopted for lack of a better option. Independent experts and a citizen redistricting commission both sent the commission proposed district plans, either of which could have produced a fairer outcome — and through a more transparent and democratic process. The commission initially claimed there wasn’t enough time to consider these alternatives while still complying with the Ohio Supreme Court’s timeline for passing remedial maps, but since it had already missed the deadline by more than a year, this excuse doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

The commission’s disregard for these outside proposals is telling. Adopting them could have demonstrated that impartial map drawers are more than capable of achieving what the politicians on the commission have repeatedly failed to do: put partisan considerations aside in favor of advancing the interests of the public.

Instead, Ohio’s string of gerrymandered maps and repeated defiance of court orders is proof that the current redistricting process is irreparably broken. Continuing down this path will only produce more rigged election outcomes and a legislature that isn’t responsive to voters. If citizens want to see their interests taken into account, they need to take redistricting into their own hands. Ohioans may get the chance to fight for reforms as soon as next year, as a proposed 2024 ballot measure would replace the existing political redistricting commission with one led by citizens.

What’s happening in Ohio is not an isolated incident; it’s part of a pattern unfolding across the nation. Again and again, politicians on both sides of the aisle are willing to carve up states and compromise fair representation principles for their own gain. Ohio can join the growing number of states opting for a better approach to redistricting — a transparent, democratic process led by impartial individuals.