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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.

Ohio capitol
Denis Tangney Jr/Getty

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.