Push against partisan gerrymandering gaining momentum
Frustrated by partisan gerrymandering, voters in a growing number of states have taken the pen and computer away from lawmakers who have traditionally drawn U.S. House and state legislative districts and instead entrusted that responsibility to others.
In the past decade, eight states have overhauled their redistricting procedures to lessen the potential of partisan manipulation, including four that adopted ballot measures last fall. More could consider redistricting changes during the 2020 elections – the last before the U.S. Census initiates another round of mapmaking for over 400 U.S. House seats and nearly 7,400 state legislative seats.
The current movement began in California for the 2010 Census, when voters approved ballot initiatives creating an independent citizens’ commission to handle redistricting. Measures touted as redistricting reforms also have passed in Florida, New York, Ohio and – most recently – in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and Utah.
In Ohio, the effort was bipartisan. Republicans joined with Democrats to back a pair of successful ballot measures that will require minority-party support to enact new congressional and state legislative districts for the next decade.
Ohio’s congressional delegation has remained at 12 Republicans and four Democrats ever since GOP officials redrew the maps after the 2010 Census, a 75-25 percent tilt that is out of line with the statewide vote for the two major parties. In November, Republican congressional candidates in Ohio won 52 percent of that vote while Democrats won 48 percent.
The Associated Press used a so-called “efficiency gap” test to analyze the 2018 elections. It’s one of the same analytical tools cited in a North Carolina gerrymandering case for which the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments on Tuesday. The test showed Ohio’s pro-Republican leaning ranked just behind North Carolina’s in the 2018 congressional elections, and its state House districts also showed a GOP advantage.
“We’ve been living under that rigged system for the entire decade,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper.
Yet one of the supporters of Ohio’s new redistricting procedures is Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who worked as a state senator to refer the measures to the ballot. LaRose said he hopes the new process leads to more competitive elections – even if that puts Republicans at risk of losing seats.
“I also see this in some ways as tough love for my party,” LaRose said. “I believe that Republican candidates are likely to win based on their ideas and based on the quality of their solutions for governing. But I think that when we rely on something other than that to win an election, it weakens us.”