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Ohio’s New Voting Maps Violate Its Own Constitution

Ohio’s new maps are a master class in egregious partisan gerrymandering.

September 29, 2021
Ohio State Capitol
Denis Tangney Jr./Getty

Every 10 years, states redraw their legis­lat­ive and congres­sional maps. The process, which is now under­way all across the coun­try, is supposed to be fair and ensure equal repres­ent­a­tion for all. But too often the process is hijacked by polit­ical parties who draft unfair maps meant to consol­id­ate their grip on polit­ical power — both in state­houses and Congress.

Partisan gerry­man­der­ing, as it’s known, disfig­ures our demo­cracy by making elec­tions uncom­pet­it­ive and by dilut­ing many communit­ies’ polit­ical power, partic­u­larly communit­ies of color. This month, the Ohio Redis­trict­ing Commis­sion, on a 5–2 party line vote, gave us a master class in how to achieve a one-party state when it approved new legis­lat­ive maps. That’s why the Bren­nan Center and co-coun­sel at Reed Smith filed a lawsuit Monday to force the commis­sion to redraw these maps. 

We’re repres­ent­ing the Ohio Organ­iz­ing Collab­or­at­ive, CAIR-Ohio, the Ohio Envir­on­mental Coun­cil, and numer­ous Ohio voters. We argue that the commis­sion’s gerry­mandered maps flag­rantly viol­ate numer­ous rights guar­an­teed by the Ohio Consti­tu­tion and have asked the Ohio Supreme Court to order the commis­sion to redraw these blatantly unfair district lines. 

The partisan maps, which not one Demo­cratic member of the commis­sion approved, entrench a Repub­lican super­ma­jor­ity in the Ohio General Assembly. But what makes this act of partisan gerry­man­der­ing so egre­gious is the sheer anti­demo­cratic chutzpah of the state’s redis­trict­ing commis­sion. In 2015, 7 out of 10 Ohio voters approved an amend­ment to the state consti­tu­tion to encour­age bipar­tis­an­ship in the redis­trict­ing process and expli­citly outlaw partisan gerry­man­der­ing. The amend­ment estab­lished a bipar­tisan redis­trict­ing commis­sion that would draw fair state legis­lat­ive maps that don’t “favor or disfa­vor a polit­ical party” and ensure that the compos­i­tion of the legis­lature corres­ponds closely to the statewide pref­er­ences of Ohio voters.

The redis­trict­ing commis­sion failed to even pursue bipar­tisan cooper­a­tion and completely ignored those clear fair­ness stand­ards, and by doing so, drew maps that not only assure Repub­lican veto-proof control of govern­ment but also partic­u­larly burden communit­ies of color. The commis­sion’s members did this by enga­ging in two tactics: crack­ing and pack­ing. In some places, the district bound­ar­ies were drawn to split, or crack, Demo­cratic voters into two separ­ate districts to reduce their chances of winning these elec­tions. In other places, the commis­sion crammed, or packed, Demo­cratic voters into a few districts to minim­ize the number of districts where the Demo­cratic Party might win. 

Not surpris­ingly, the commis­sion cracked and packed many of Ohio’s Black and Muslim resid­ents in gerry­mandered districts, which would result in less repres­ent­a­tion in the state’s general assembly. One of our plaintiffs, Pier­ette Talley, explains: “If the maps remain in place, millions of Ohioans, partic­u­larly Black Ohioans and other people of color who live in these gerry­mandered communit­ies like Toledo, won’t have a voice in any policies impact­ing their lives that come out of the Colum­bus state­house.” 

Amer­ica’s multiracial future is already here. Partisan gerry­man­der­ing, like the maps drawn by the Ohio Redis­trict­ing Commis­sion, strangles it before we can make it a real­ity polit­ic­ally.

Ohio won’t be the last state to draw unfair maps. Watch this space: as more and more states draw their maps for the next decade, the Bren­nan Center will stay vigil­ant against partisan gerry­man­der­ing and discrim­in­a­tion.