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Ohio’s new plan to end gerrymandering

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Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.
  1. This week, Ohio's legislature approved a proposal that would hand control of its statehouse redistricting process to a new bipartisan commission. Now, the proposal needs approval from the state's voters before it goes into effect.
  2. The proposed seven-member redistricting commission isn't nonpartisan — it will include the governor, secretary of state, state auditor, and two legislators from each party and chamber. But importantly, if fewer than two minority party members approve the new map, it will only go into effect for four years, not ten.
  3. The new commissioners will be encouraged to keep counties and townships together, and are explicitly instructed not to draw maps that favor or disfavor a political party.
  4. The reforms don't apply to Ohio's famously gerrymandered Congressional delegation, but only to state legislature districts.

The key element: Consequences if the minority party doesn't agree

The new commission would be filled with politicians rather than an independent commissions filled with outside experts, like in Canada, or with applicants from the general public, as in California. The commissioners will be told to help keep geographically similar areas together, and not to take party into account. Since these commissioners are elected politicians, though, the partisan implications of the maps will surely remain on their minds.

However, the key element of Ohio's plan is that the minority party is guaranteed at least two seats on the new commission — and, if they don't agree to the majority's new plan, there are real consequences. Specifically, if a majority party rams a plan through without at least two votes from the minority, the new districts will go into effect for four years, rather than the typical ten.

Since the majority party knows that partisan control could change hands by then, they have an incentive to craft a lasting solution while they know they still have control. And there's little incentive to hold out for a larger majority, since the minority party will always be guaranteed at least two seats on the commission.

But Ohio's Congressional districting process is left alone

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Yet the new proposal changes nothing about Ohio's famously gerrymandered Congressional map. In 2012, Republicans won 52 percent of Ohio's House vote, but ended up with 12 out of 16 seats.

In a classic sign of gerrymandering, all four victorious Democrats won with 68 percent or more of the vote in their districts — and every Republican with a declared opponent won by relatively smaller margins, with vote shares of between 53 and 63 percent. That indicates Democratic-leaning voters were packed together in a few districts, and Republican-leaning voters were spread out over many, while still having a clear advantage in most of them.

Accordingly, in the 2014 Republican landslide year — without Obama on the ballot and with Gov. John Kasich cruising to a landslide victory — the entire Ohio delegation was reelected, and Republicans ended up with those same 12 seats.