Text and Data Visualization by Kevin Huber
Additional reporting by Ariel Miller
In presidential politics, Ohio is known as the ultimate bellwether state, having voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election going back to 1964. But when it comes to the U.S. House of Representatives, Ohioans enjoy no such swing status. Despite the Buckeye state being split essentially 50/50 between Republican and Democratic voters, the GOP controls 75 percent of Ohio’s seats in the U.S. House. And out of a total of 16 seats, only two are considered competitive.
“When you have congressional districts that lean heavily in one direction or the other, you wind up with candidates who aren’t accountable to general election voters, which leads to extremism on both sides,” says Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, a “small d” democratic advocacy group supporting Issue 1, an amendment for congressional redistricting reform that Ohioans will have the opportunity to vote on in Tuesday’s statewide election.
“When we talk about gerrymandering,” adds Turcer, “we are not talking about it as a Republican issue or a Democratic issue — it’s a power issue.”
If Issue 1 passes, it will do away with the status quo, which, every 10 years — or, following every new U.S. census — sees the political party holding power in the state legislature in charge of redrawing the state’s U.S. congressional districts.
“When we talk about gerrymandering, we are not talking about it as a Republican issue or a Democratic issue — it’s a power issue.”
The current map was drawn following the 2010 U.S. census, in 2011, by Republican state lawmakers. Thanks to such gerrymandering tactics as “packing” (concentrating the opposing party’s voting power into as few districts as possible), “cracking” (diluting the opposing party’s voting power over as many districts as possible), and “hijacking” (drawing two or more incumbent representatives from the opposing party into the same district), in the three elections since, no seat has changed party hands, giving Ohio Republicans a virtual lock on their 12-4 majority in the U.S. House.
What would Issue 1 do?
- Keep power of redistricting in the state assembly, but require 60-percent approval (instead of a simple majority) of each house and at least one half of the members of each of the top 2 political parties.
- If a map is not voted in by the end of September of the year following a U.S. census (the next census is 2020) then a bipartisan commission is formed, and 4 of the 7 members of said commission (with a minimum of 2 members from the 2 major political parties) can vote in a map.
- If a map is not voted in by the end of October of the year after a census then
a vote in the general assembly takes place. Ratification requires three-fifths approval with one-third support from the 2 major political parties.
- Instead of being redrawn every 10 years, the process starts all over again every 4 years.
- If the first three efforts fail, then a map can be approved by a simple majority in the legislature, but the map must have written explanations for how it:
a.) Doesn’t unduly favor or disfavor a political party or its incumbents.
b.) Doesn’t unduly split counties, townships, municipalities when possible.
c.) Is compact.
Interact with the data visualization below to learn more about how gerrymandering factors into Ohio’s current map of congressional districts, and see how alternative redistricting methods could impact the state.
About the Data
These maps reflect performance in Ohio elections accounting for a variety of political conditions and do not predict the outcome of elections. A competitive district, as defined by the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voter Index, is a district that a candidate from either party has at least a 1-in-6, or 16.67%, likelihood of winning. The maps and outcome data are from The Gerrymandering Project from FiveThirtyEight. This piece would not be possible without the heavy lifting from their team. Data from representatives and districts are from a combination of Ballotpedia, GovTrack, Congress.gov, Statistical Atlas, Politico, Ryne Rohla, and each individual representatives’ websites. Ballot information is from the Primary Issue Report from the Ohio Secretary of State.
Kevin Huber is a news applications developer based in Nashville, Tennessee, originally from Cincinnati, Ohio. You can find more of his work and contact information here.
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