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Ohio remapping dysfunction should set an example

Lawmakers are capable of doing better. The question is, are they willing to do better?

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On Tuesday, the anti-gerrymandering movement scored a victory when the Ohio Supreme Court ruled against a congressional map created by Republican legislators. The legislature of Ohio now has 30 days to submit a workable map. The Ohio Redistricting Commission is responsible for doing this if they don’t.

During the time frame of 2022’s mapping, partisan gerrymandering has been rampant on both sides of the aisle. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project assigns a grade to each state’s congressional map based on several criteria, such as competitiveness, geography, and partisan fairness.

Districts 13, 15, 16, and 17 are particularly egregious in the Illinois map that failed on all three metrics and was drawn by a legislature controlled by Democrats. 14 of the state’s 17 districts are drawn to favor Democratic candidates, with special care taken to avoid certain voters.

By concentrating Democratic voters in districts near Dallas, Austin, and Houston, the Republican-controlled Texas legislature has effectively used the Voting Rights Act to justify its unfair and geographically inconvenient districting plan.

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The proliferation of computational tools that reveal partisan gerrymandering is a major factor in its increasing difficulty to implement. Data analysis and insights are provided by organizations such as the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, FiveThirtyEight, and the Institute for Computational Redistricting, all of which help voters and bring gerrymandering offenders to light. As a result, the judicial review of proposed maps has become more efficient, and partisan gerrymandering has been prevented.

Ohio’s congressional district boundaries are a complete mess at the moment. While the Republicans will have an advantage in the upcoming midterm elections in 2022 thanks to the use of the 2012 maps, Democrats will have the upper hand in the subsequent elections in 2024 thanks to new maps that will be released by the end of the summer. The loss of one congressional district by Ohio as a result of the 2020 Census only adds further complexity.

Ohio’s situation should serve as an example of the unintended consequences of partisan gerrymandering. Voters should be outraged, and they can show that anger by rejecting the candidates for office who are vying to keep their seats and their power.

Partisan gerrymandering could be more easily concealed and maintained before the widespread availability of computational tools to reveal such practices. No longer is that the case.

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Federal laws defining how congressional maps should be drawn are necessary to ensure a level playing field for mapmakers across the country. Common principles must be applied so that no one party has an unfair advantage, whether through the use of impartial commissions or standards defined by fairness metrics. Those who would be in a position to propose such legislation stand to lose the most if it were passed.

Such regulations would be mutually beneficial. Importantly, partisan gerrymandering has an impact on every voter, regardless of party affiliation, and has the effect of diluting the significance of votes cast because of how districts are drawn.

The process of drawing Ohio’s congressional map in 2024 will remain under scrutiny. When other districts’ 2022 maps are challenged in court, the courts will almost certainly order a redrawing of those districts’ boundaries. False legal cases are a waste of time and money. Legislators should not be responsible for drawing and defending partisan gerrymandered maps due to the inherent conflict of interest that arises from doing so.

Ideally, voters would have input into the process of mapmaking. Political gerrymandering manipulates district boundaries to benefit a single party’s electoral prospects.

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It’s unfortunate that three of Ohio’s seven Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices voted to uphold the state’s partisan gerrymandered map. Unfortunately, partisan gerrymandering in Ohio could not be stopped until a ruling was issued by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Legislators should be able to do better. A key issue is whether or not they are prepared to raise their game.

At the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Dr. Sheldon H. Jacobson was one of the first faculty members to teach computer science. The Institute for Computational Redistricting, which he co-founded, uses computational methods to provide open and fair redistricting processes.

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