By Catherine Turcer, Common Cause Ohio
Who draws the congressional districts now? The state legislature draws maps with the help of political consultants. The political party in power in the Ohio General Assembly draws congressional districts. Democrats have drawn maps in the past. In 2001 and 2011, the Republicans drew the maps. This gave them an advantage. There are twelve districts that lean towards Republicans and twelve Republican Congressmen. There are only four districts that favor the Democratic Party and these are filled by Democrats.
When are congressional maps drawn? Maps are drawn every ten years after the census counts all the people. The next maps will be drawn in 2021.
What is gerrymandering? Gerrymandering is the manipulation of political districts to rig the outcome of elections to favor one political party over another. Both Democrats and Republicans have engaged in gerrymandering but this type of map-making reduces voter choices and leads to fewer competitive elections and elected officials who are less accountable to their constituents.
How do map-makers create unfair districts? The party that has the majority can pack voters of the minority party into one district so that they reduce the number of minority districts. The majority party can also crack voters of the minority into a number of districts diluting their voting power.
Are Ohio's districts really that much worse than the rest of the country? Ohio has some of the worst gerrymandered districts in the country. Read more about Ohio's gerrymandering problem here. Bring a congressional map with you.
I’m not a Democrat or Republican. Why should I care? Gerrymandering gives all voters fewer choices. Districts that lean heavily in one direction or the other mean that the real competition happens in the primary and elected officials are more tied to their political parties than their voters. Fair districts mean that all voters will have more meaningful elections.
Didn't voters already pass redistricting reform? In November 2015, Ohio voters overwhelming passed Issue 1, which creates redistricting reform for state legislative districts. Voters reformed the way state legislative maps are drawn by imposing strict rules for keeps communities together, prohibiting hyper-partisan gerrymandering and creates more transparency. It's time to create similar rules for the way that we draw Congressional districts. All of Ohio deserves fair districts and fair elections.
Why do the maps make a big difference? Computers have made it much easier to create congressional districts with a desired outcome. The partisan makeup of Ohio’s congressional districts perfectly predicted the political party of the winner in every single race in 2012, 2014 and 2016. Uncompetitive districts make it harder to hold our elected officials accountable.
How is this legal? The courts have yet to step in to stop partisan gerrymandering. There is a case from Wisconsin that fights partisan gerrymandering that is likely to go to the Supreme Court but the courts don’t fix this now.
How does this impact minorities? The Voting Rights Act is included in the Fair Districts = Fair Elections’ proposal for congressional redistricting reform. This federal law will continue to protect majority-minority districts but the reform will reduce hyper-packing of Democrats which may create additional opportunities for minority candidate.
What do we want? Fair districts and fair elections.
Will map-making really be more transparent? Map-making in 2011 was done behind closed doors and the public hearings were a dog and pony show. Hearings will be held before maps are created and after proposed maps are initially introduced so that the public can weigh in on them in a meaningful way. The Ohio Redistricting Commission will be required to explain the maps that they create (example: why the map splits up a township or how the new maps do not unfairly favor a particular party).
Have more questions? Give the Fair Districts = Fair Elections Coalition a phone call at 614-259-8388.