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Ohio’s Redistricting Process Has Been a Roller Coaster

Back in 2018, Ohio voters thought they were doing a good thing by reforming redistricting in their state. It turns out they created a chaotic process that has left their congressional map as gerrymandered as ever.

Nathaniel Rakich: Ohio’s Cedar Point amusement park claims to be the roller coaster capital of the world. But none of its rides have as many ups and downs as the state’s redistricting process.

Back in 2018, Ohio voters passed a constitutional amendment to reform redistricting in the state and make it harder to gerrymander. But when the new law was put to the test last year, it was an utter disaster. And the new congressional map that emerged is as gerrymandered as ever.

Under the new rules, the Ohio legislature had until September 30 to pass a new congressional map with bipartisan support. They didn’t. So the task went to the new bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission, which had until October 31 to pass a map. They didn’t either. So the process went back to the state legislature, which this time was allowed to pass a new map along strict party lines.

And — surprise, surprise — the Republicans who control the legislature pushed through a map that gave their party a big advantage. According to one metric of quantifying gerrymandering, called the efficiency gap, this map is expected to produce 16 percent more seats for the GOP than a perfectly fair map. Some “reform,” huh?

But that wasn’t the end of the drama. Democrats sued over the map, arguing it was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. And in January, the Ohio Supreme Court agreed! In a 4-3 decision that included the court’s Republican chief justice, the court noted that the GOP would likely win 75 to 80 percent of Ohio’s congressional seats under the map even though the party, quote, “generally musters no more than 55 percent of the statewide popular vote.” The decision went on to say, quote, “By any rational measure, that skewed result just does not add up.”

The ruling invalidated the gerrymandered map and gave the legislature 30 days to draw a new one. But guess what? They didn’t. In fact, they didn’t even try, concluding it would be impossible to round up the votes they needed. So the task again fell to the Ohio Redistricting Commission, and in early March they finally passed a new map. All’s well that ends well, right?

Wrong! The new map was barely any fairer than the one that had been struck down. It still gave Republicans 75 to 80 percent of Ohio’s congressional seats. And it still had an efficiency gap of 16 percent toward the GOP. So it seemed inevitable that the Ohio Supreme Court would strike this map down as well.

But weeks passed with no word from the court. Then, on March 18, it came: Because the map was new, plaintiffs would have to file a new lawsuit as well. With only six weeks left until the Ohio primary, Democrats quickly filed a new suit, but it was too late. The court announced that it would not rule on the new case until after the primary, all but ensuring that the map will be used in the 2022 midterm. Much like Michigan did to Ohio State in their last football game, Ohio Republicans succeeded in running out the clock.

Regardless of what the court eventually decides, though, the map can be used for a maximum of two election cycles because it didn’t pass with any Democratic votes — another quirk of the state’s new redistricting law. So we’ll have to do this all over again in 2025. Hope you like roller coasters, Ohio, because this one isn’t over yet. AHHHHHHH!

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

Tony Chow is a video producer for FiveThirtyEight.


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