2018 Election Results: Gerrymandering Takes a Hit in Ohio

As we reported in Tuesday night primary election coverage, Ohio voters were deciding a ballot measure, Issue 1, that would overhaul Ohio’s congressional redistricting process.

The proposed amendment to the state constitution would require districts to be compact, limit the number of counties split between districts and give the minority party more leverage in passing a new map. Issue 1 has garnered support from both Democrats and Republicans, so it hasn’t generated much campaign activity. But some reformers have complained that it doesn’t go far enough. For example, if a redistricting plan fails to pass with minority-party support, then the majority party can still unilaterally pass its own map (although it would expire after four years rather than the usual 10). Polls suggest the measure will pass easily.

That initiative easily passed garnering 75% of the vote. Unfortunately, the new map will not go into effect until after the 2020 General Election.

1. To start off, the Ohio legislature would be tasked with drawing a new map. But they could no longer pass it with a simple majority vote. They’d need three-fifths support and the support of at least half the members of both major parties, in each chamber, as well as the governor’s signature.

2. If there’s no deal, the congressional map-drawing would be punted over to the seven-member Ohio commission that exists to handle the state legislature’s redistricting. Here, again, bipartisanship would be necessary — at least two minority-party members would have to agree to approve a new map.

3. If the commission fails, the job would be tossed back to the Ohio legislature. In that case, the threshold for success would fall, but bipartisanship would still be necessary to pass a map — at least one-third of each party’s members would have to vote for it, to pass it and send it for the governor’s signature.

4. Finally, if all these efforts fail, the legislature would be permitted to pass a map with simple majority support. But the catch is that this new map would only last four years, rather than the usual 10. And again, the governor’s signature would be required.

Issue 1 has other reforms too. It restricts how often counties and other local governmental units in the state can be split up in the new map, and declares that any plan must not “unduly” favor or disfavor a political party or its incumbents.

It is far from perfect and has some major flaws as the article in Vox.com points out

The new redistricting process looks elaborate and could well result in a bipartisan deal. But the key stage in the plan is really No. 4 above. It ensures that if the majority party really wants to, it can still pass a new map with no votes from the minority — meaning the leverage in the overall negotiations will, in the end, remain with them. “The majority’s probably going to get most of the map that they like,” (Republican state Sen. Matt) Huffman says.

However, the deal does force any map without significant bipartisan support to expire after just four years rather than lasting for 10. Reformers also say the new rules about not splitting counties, and not “unduly” favoring any party or incumbents, could let them bring legal challenges to maps they find egregious. (Huffman is more skeptical of this, asking, “The question, of course, is, what does ‘unduly’ mean?”)

Democratic supporters of reform generally view the outcome as a win. “I think it is an example of what can happen in a good faith effort to come up with a process that is fair and just for both sides,” says Kelly Ward of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. “Republicans in the legislature realized that voters were paying attention.”

But while opposition to the measure hasn’t been particularly prominent, the arguments against it that do exist mostly come from the left.

Stephen Wolf of Daily Kos Elections wrote a biting critique of the deal, calling it “fatally flawed” because it “essentially still leaves one party in charge of the redistricting process.” Wolf believes the redistricting process should be taken away from the state legislature and state parties entirely and handed over to an independent commission — and he thinks the passage of this deal will make that less likely to happen.

“Republican legislators shrewdly accepted that momentum was building against partisan gerrymandering,” he writes. “This compromise is quite simply a way to blunt that momentum while preserving as much of their advantage as possible under a false veneer of bipartisanship.”

The ACLU of Ohio has also said it “neither supports nor opposes” the measure because it doesn’t go far enough. “While there are some benefits to Issue 1, it still allows for partisan gerrymandering,” the group’s policy director, Mike Brickner, has said. Attorney Paul DeMarco has also written an op-ed calling on reformers to hold out for a better ballot initiative in 2020.

While Issue 1 is certainly far from perfect, 75% of Ohioans think it’s worth a try.