Republicans in Ohio redrew new congressional district lines that resulted in the loss of a Democratic district.
Gerrymandering is when the lines drawn for congressional districts favor one party over another. Ohio’s new winding, curving districts are a perfect example.
Ohio faced a difficult redistricting process this year because the state lost two seats in the House of Representatives. Eighteen districts have been redrawn to fit 16 districts in the state.
Not everyone is happy with the new districts. Professor of political science at Ohio State Richard Gunther gave a testimony against the plan at the Ohio Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee meeting on Sept. 20.
“This plan is the most grotesque partisan gerrymander that I, as a political scientist, had ever seen,” Gunther said. “It should either be rejected by the Ohio Senate or the courts, or overruled in a referendum by the citizens of this state, who deserve better.”
In his testimony, Gunther listed four criteria that are “crucial for the proper functioning of democracy:” community preservation, geographical compactness, competitiveness and fairness in representation. The new districts, Gunther said, fail in all four categories.
Herb Asher, a professor of Political Science at OSU, agrees with Gunther. Asher, however, said he believes the failure lies in the system used to draw the districts in Ohio.
“We could have had a better, less partisan system today,” Asher said. “We’ve had opportunities to change it, but we haven’t. We haven’t been successful.”
Asher said blaming the Republicans is not the solution because the Democrats would have done the same thing if they were the party in charge.
“They try to draw district lines to benefit their party: Pack as many members of the minority party into a smaller number of districts,” Asher said. “That’s wasteful, you don’t need that much to win.”
Gerrymandering, according to Gunther, makes districts less competitive, and therefore, more difficult for voters to make significant changes in their communities.
“In districts like this it is extremely difficult for voters to hold elected officials accountable, which is one of the core principles of democratic governance,” Gunther said.
Mike Thompson, director of news and public affairs for WOSU Public Media, said that gerrymandering is a knee-jerk reaction for politicians and it has been going on for 200 years.
“The party in charge controls this process … they’re trying to protect their candidates in their districts,” Thompson said.
Thompson said because of Ohio’s influence in presidential elections as a swing state, the new districts might have some impact next year, even with losing two electoral votes.
“You could say we’re weaker, but there’s only half a dozen states that are really up for grabs, and Ohio is one of them,” Thompson said. “So that’s why you’ll have lots of presidential candidates visiting Ohio State and Columbus.”
Asher said though there is little that can be done about the current plan, the next redistricting in 2021 could be done using different methods.
“We have gerrymandering, but gerrymandering is not illegal,” Asher said. “As long as the districts meet population equality, as long as they are contiguous, you can then draw some pretty funny-looking lines.”