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Analysis

We’re Suing Ohio Over Its Gerrymandered Voting District Maps

The Ohio Redistricting Commission’s maps unfairly advantage the GOP, in violation of the state constitution.

Last Updated: December 6, 2021
Published: September 27, 2021
Ohio capitol
Denis Tangney Jr/Getty

This Wednes­day, Decem­ber 8, the Ohio Supreme Court will hear oral argu­ments in Ohio Organ­iz­ing Collab­or­at­ive v. Ohio Redis­trict­ing Commis­sion, a case brought by the Bren­nan Center and our part­ners to chal­lenge the Ohio Redis­trict­ing Commis­sion’s heav­ily gerry­mandered elect­oral maps. In the post below, our advoc­ates explain the substance of this crit­ical case.

The Ohio Redis­trict­ing Commis­sion approved maps this month that entrench a GOP super­ma­jor­ity in the Ohio General Assembly, flout­ing new voter-passed anti-gerry­man­der­ing reforms. The maps, approved two weeks ago, make it harder for Ohioans to have a voice in their govern­ment and burden Ohio’s Black and Muslim communit­ies, many of which are concen­trated in gerry­mandered districts.

That’s why the Bren­nan Center and co-coun­sel at Reed Smith filed a lawsuit Monday against the Ohio Redis­trict­ing Commis­sion and its members on behalf of the Ohio Organ­iz­ing Collab­or­at­ive, CAIR-Ohio, the Ohio Envir­on­mental Coun­cil, and numer­ous Ohio voters. We argue that the commis­sion’s gerry­mandered maps viol­ate voters’ equal protec­tion and asso­ci­ational rights and the prohib­i­tion against partisan gerry­man­der­ing under the Ohio Consti­tu­tion. We’re asking the Ohio Supreme Court to force the commis­sion to redraw the maps.

Gerry­man­der­ing is unfor­tu­nately not new to Ohio. During the 2011 redis­trict­ing cycle, the state came under fire for approv­ing some of the most flag­rantly partisan maps in the coun­try.

But since then, voters have pushed back. In 2015, over 71 percent of Ohioans voted to create new rules for the state’s redis­trict­ing process, send­ing a resound­ing message of support for fair maps that repres­ent the entirety and diversity of the state. The voter-approved consti­tu­tional amend­ment estab­lished a bipar­tisan redis­trict­ing commis­sion to draw state legis­lat­ive maps that “corres­pond closely to the statewide pref­er­ences of the voters of Ohio” and that neither “favor or disfa­vor a polit­ical party.”

Yet the commis­sion ignored these clear stand­ards. The new maps — passed 5–2 without a single Demo­cratic vote — would likely guar­an­tee the GOP veto-proof super­ma­jor­it­ies in both houses of the legis­lature, despite Repub­lic­ans earn­ing only 54 percent of the votes in partisan statewide and federal elec­tions over the past decade. And if the polit­ical tides turned and Demo­crats received 54 percent statewide support, they would­n’t even garner a bare major­ity of seats in the legis­lature.

While some Repub­lican commis­sion members have down­played their gerry­man­der­ing by fram­ing partisan fair­ness as an “aspir­a­tion” rather than a require­ment, even Repub­lican Gov. Mike DeWine, a commis­sion member himself, admit­ted that “the commit­tee could have produced a more clearly consti­tu­tional bill.”

Because the maps passed with only Repub­lican support, they will need to be redrawn in four years. That’s because Ohio’s new redis­trict­ing process requires bipar­tisan consensus for maps to last 10 years, the stand­ard period between redis­trict­ing cycles. But in those four years, there will be multiple elec­tions for state legis­lat­ors, mean­ing that rigged maps will have real, poten­tially endur­ing consequences for the qual­ity of repres­ent­a­tion that Ohio voters receive. These abuses are espe­cially borne by members of Ohio’s Black and Muslim communit­ies who bear the brunt of the partisan gerry­mander, making it harder for them to effect­ively organ­ize and be heard by elec­ted lead­ers.

From indi­vidual voters to local civil soci­ety groups, our plaintiffs repres­ent the Ohioans whose voting power and abil­ity to advoc­ate for their interests is most threatened by the new legis­lat­ive maps. The maps were clearly designed not to repres­ent the voters of Ohio, but to entrench partisan power. They repres­ent not only polit­ical games­man­ship that is anti­thet­ical to repres­ent­at­ive demo­cracy, but a disreg­ard of voter will and a derel­ic­tion of the Ohio Redis­trict­ing Commis­sion’s consti­tu­tional duties.