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Amid an effort by the Republican Party to seize power with redrawn voting boundaries nationwide, GOP lawmakers in Ohio on Thursday approved a new congressional map that democracy advocates rebuked as “a classic partisan gerrymander.”
“We are in a 1965 moment for democracy.”
“The Buckeye State was supposed to be the poster child of bipartisan, transparent redistricting,” Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said in a statement Thurday. “Instead, Ohio leaders have disrespected voters, trampled the Ohio Constitution, and rigged the Congressional map to serve partisan, political operatives rather than fairly represent Ohioans.”
The map proposal in Senate Bill 258—given an F for partisan fairness by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, rolled out by Republicans with little time for voter input, and passed despite a 2018 redistricting reform ballot measure meant to discourage such partisan maps—could give the GOP an advantage in 13 out of 15 congressional districts.
The bill now awaits signature by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.
“No Democrats supported the map,” Axios reported, “meaning it will be in effect for just the 2022 and 2024 election cycles (rather than a full 10 years for a bipartisan map).”
According to state House Minority Leader Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron), “Ohioans and Democrats wanted to see a bipartisan, 10-year map, but as the process unfolded, it was clear Republicans had no intention of negotiating a compromise in good faith.”
The new lines relied on tactics dubbed “packing” and “cracking,” as local WCMH reported:
“Packing” is when alike voters are kept together to concentrate their power in a small number of districts and minimize it statewide. In OH-9, for example, Democratic voters from Toledo to west of Cleveland were packed together, forming a district that elected a Democrat by 26 points last year.
“Cracking” is the opposite but achieves the same goal. Alike voters in one place are split up among multiple districts to dilute their influence.
“Franklin County’s black communities are packed into just one district, while its Latinos and the AAPI communities are split into different ones,” Sen. Tina Maharath (D-Canal Winchester) said during debate Tuesday.
The vote in Ohio came amid a national gerrymandering spree by GOP lawmakers as new voting maps are drawn.
Speaking on “The Rachel Maddow Show” Thursday, voting rights expert and Mother Jones reporter Ari Berman said that “what Republicans are doing across the country is they are literally turning back the clock decades when it comes to voting rights. We are seeing the most intense efforts to undermine the right to vote and the most intense efforts to reduce fair representation since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.”
“We’re in a moment where there’s no substitute for federal action on voting rights,” he added. “We are in a 1965 moment for democracy.”
“There was no institute for the Voting Rights Act in 1965,” said Berman, because “we weren’t going to out-organize voter suppression, we weren’t going to out-litigate voter suppression. Congress had to step in and act.”
“We’re in a similar situation today,” he said, because “we’re not going to out-organize or out-litigate extreme gerrymandering and voter suppression. Congress has to protect voting rights. There simply is no substitute right now.”
Reporting by the Washington Post put the Ohio redistricting in the broader national context:
Democrats and advocates say the new lines are one of the many ways that Republicans in Ohio and elsewhere have sought to diminish the strength of Democrats, particularly those who are Black and Hispanic. In the last decade, the GOP-led Ohio legislature and Republican secretaries of state have limited ballot drop boxes, scaled back early voting and purged voter rolls—moves aimed at Democratic voters.
Republican legislators have blown past deadlines for proposing a congressional map, operating in secret to draw the lines. The map they eventually passed this week—which now goes to Gov. Mike DeWine (R) for his signature—gives them an overwhelming majority of the House seats, ignoring the amendment’s requirement that lines be drawn to reflect the electoral makeup of the state.
In a Thursday column at the Post warning that a “redistricting apocalypse is here” to “assualt our democracy,” Paul Waldman wrote that the new map in Ohio could be “the most egregious gerrymander of all” those underway.
Among the states experiencing such an assault, said Waldman, is Texas, where “Republicans essentially eliminated electoral competition. Only one of the state’s 38 congressional districts will be competitive under the new map; 13 will be safely Democratic, and 24 will be safely Republican. If recent trends persist, the majority of the state’s voters will be voting for Democrats within a few years, but Republicans will still control nearly two-thirds of the House seats.”
Zeroing in on Ohio, Waldman added:
In September, the state’s GOP-controlled redistricting commission approved state legislative maps that will guarantee the GOP a veto-proof supermajority in both houses, putting even a future Democratic governor at the mercy of the Republican legislature. Top it off with the incredible 13-to-two congressional gerrymander, and you have a state where Democrats are nearly half the electorate but have no power—and virtually no chance of ever gaining power.
That is precisely the point: to make elections irrelevant and eliminate the voters’ ability to choose their leaders.
With the Ohio proposal now just awaiting DeWine’s signature, progressive groups like Common Cause are urging him to veto the redrawn boundaries.
“Ohioans watched with dismay this week as an entirely new map was introduced as a substitute for Senate Bill 258, and then rushed at breakneck speed through both Senate and House committees, without a proper opportunity for the public to be able to weigh in,” said Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, adding that “voters deserve better.”
“Senate Bill 258 needs to be vetoed,” she said, “because it unduly favors the political party in power, the very definition of gerrymandering.”
Collin Marozzi, deputy policy director for the ACLU of Ohio, said that “DeWine alone has the executive privilege, and moral obligation, to honor the Ohio Constitution and veto Senate Bill 258, which artificially inflates partisan control of Ohio’s congressional delegation to one party at the expense of another, and will not accurately reflect the people of Ohio in Congress—not by a long shot.”