by Prerna Jagadeesh and Jordan Zakarin
When Mindy Nagel is cooking in her kitchen, she’s in Ohio’s 1st district. When she goes to sleep at night, she’s in its 2nd district.
As a result of election maps drawn by Ohio Republicans in 2011, Nagel’s house is split down the middle into two different state legislative districts, with her family’s kitchen, garage, and living room in District One and their bedrooms in District Two. It’s an extreme case of an antidemocratic scheme known as gerrymandering, in which election maps are drawn to create voting districts that favor one political party over the other.
Since 2011, a bipartisan majority of Ohians have voted to outlaw extreme gerrymanders like the one which split Nagel’s house in two. However, in the current redistricting process, where the election maps are being redrawn after the 2020 census, Republicans are going against the voters’ wishes to do it anyway.
After the 2010 census, Ohio Republicans worked in 2011 to redraw the state’s electoral maps in a way that created as many majority-Republican districts as possible. They split up neighborhoods and communities, separated communities of interest, and disenfranchised minorities. This gave Republicans a grossly unfair advantage in the state legislature, enabling them to inflict extreme right-wing policies on a very purple state.
“Even though Ohio is really a purple state that votes for Democrats and Republicans across the last decade in almost a 50-50 split, the Republicans occupy 75% of our congressional seats and have super majorities in both of our legislative chambers,” said Katy Shanahan, Ohio State Director for anti-gerrymandering organization All On The Line. Republicans control 12 of Ohio’s 16 Congressional seats, even though they’ve won just 54% of the vote over the past decade.
In 2015 and in 2018, overwhelming bipartisan majorities of Ohioans voted in favor of constitutional amendments meant to prevent future gerrymanders. The amendments called for districts that kept communities together, did not advantage one party over another, provided fair representation for minority communities, and were drawn with public input.
“Unfortunately, that’s not how the [redistricting] process has actually gone,” said Shanahan. “From top to bottom, the process has really failed to live up to the promise of those reform measures and the requirements of our Ohio Constitution.”
Ohio Republicans just passed legislative maps that ignore those rules entirely. If voting patterns hold, they should win 70% of new seats in the state.
“The ultimate maps that the Republican commissioners who control five of the seven votes on the body that actually draws our state legislative maps passed are heavily partisan gerrymandered to favor Republicans. So even though across the last decade, Republicans have only won 54 percent of our vote, they will occupy 70 percent of our legislative seats under these new maps” Shanahan continued.
One major consequence of Ohio Republicans’ extreme gerrymandering is that communities of color, which largely vote Democratic, have fallen through the cracks. “Gerrymandering cracks apart and dilutes communities of color, denying representation and exacerbating environmental injustices,” said Callia Téllez of the Ohio Environmental Council. “Low income communities of color are most likely to be the frontline communities to pollution and the impacts of climate change. And these communities have the least political representation.”
Grassroots groups in Ohio are fighting back against this Republican gerrymander. Three lawsuits have already been filed against Ohio’s new gerrymandered legislative districts, with groups like the ACLU, League of Women Voters, and others saying that the maps are unfair and unconstitutional.
Surprisingly, even the most powerful Republican in the state of Ohio agrees with them.
“I have felt throughout [that] this committee could have produced a more clearly Constitutional bill. That’s not the bill that we have in front of us,” Governor Mark DeWine said when faced with the task of approving the maps drawn by members of his own party. He signed off on them anyway — but his words could come back to haunt him in court.