By Carrie Davis, League of Women Voters of Ohio
Many of us have been eagerly watching an important gerrymandering case out of Wisconsin, Gill v. Whitford.
Yesterday - On Monday, June 29 - the US Supreme Court announced that they would hear Gill during the new term beginning in October 2017.
What the Wisconsin gerrymandering case is all about:
This is an exciting case to watch for redistricting reformers. While the US Supreme Court has said that it’s possible for excessive partisan gerrymandering (drawing districts to strongly favor a political party) to cross the line and be unconstitutional, the high court has never set a legal standard defining where that line might be. That’s where Gill v. Whitford comes in.
The Campaign Legal Center, who brought the case, proposes a numeric formula for measuring political gerrymandering. They call it “the efficiency gap.”
According to this paper by the Brennan Center, “the efficiency gap counts the number of votes each party wastes in an election to determine whether either party enjoyed a systematic advantage in turning votes into seats. Any vote cast for a losing candidate is considered wasted, as are all the votes cast for a winning candidate in excess of the number needed to win.”
In other words, if a state is heavily gerrymandered to create “safe seats” that one party will win by a landslide, those “wasted votes” will have a higher efficiency gap score – and, according to the Gill plaintiffs, rise to the level of an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.
What this means for Ohio:
Ohio suffers from the same problem of having districts drawn to create safe seats that all but guarantee which party will win.
LWV Ohio’s 2015 report “Predictable Results II” documents how Ohio’s state and federal legislative districts overwhelmingly create predictable safe seats. (The forthcoming third edition of LWVO’s Predictable Results report, which incorporates 2016 election results, is being finalized and will be available soon.)
If the US Supreme Court decides to accept the Gill case’s invitation to establish a legal standard for what constitutes an excessive partisan gerrymander that unconstitutionally encroaches on voters’ rights to choose who represents them, that would prohibit any such future extreme partisan gerrymanders and could open the door to challenging existing maps in other states that also cross the line.
While Gill is an important case, it does not impact plans to pursue the Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio ballot proposal. Here’s why:
While Gill has the potential to strike a critical blow to partisan gerrymandering, that only impacts one part of needed reform to the redistricting process.
It does not address other aspects of gerrymandering that our ballot issue does:
So keep passing those petitions and collecting signatures! With any luck, the Court will strike a blow against gerrymandering next term and Ohio voters will do the same when they vote yes on our ballot issue!