Ohio Republicans late Wednesday night unveiled new district maps that could expand their 2010 gerrymander and give them a 13-2 advantage in the state's congressional delegation.
The state's Republican Party orchestrated one of the most successful gerrymanders in 2010, giving themselves a 12-4 advantage in Congress in a state former President Barack Obama had actually carried in 2008, winning 51% of the vote. A federal court ruled that the map was illegal nine years later, finding that the state legislature had "manipulated district lines in an attempt to control electoral outcomes," but the Supreme Court effectively nullified the ruling when it decided in 2019 that federal courts have no jurisdiction over partisan gerrymanders.
Ohio voters overwhelmingly voted three years ago to create a bipartisan redistricting commission. But that panel failed to approve new district maps by Sunday's deadline, after the Census Bureau delayed the release of data used for redistricting by five months. As a result, the redistricting process was punted to the Republican-dominated state legislature, which quickly released maps expanding the GOP advantage. The public was required to submit testimony for public hearings hours before the maps were even released and lawmakers got just 20 minutes to analyze them before they were advanced by committees in party-line votes, according to the Ohio Capital Journal.
The map released by the House GOP could give Republicans a 13-2 advantage after the state lost a congressional seat following the census, according to the Columbus Dispatch, though the Senate map would be more competitive than the House version. The maps could give Republicans 86% of the state's congressional seats, even though Donald Trump won just 52% of the vote in 2020.
The new maps are "asinine" and "an outrageous insult," Katy Shanahan, the Ohio director for the anti-gerrymandering group All on the Line, said in a statement.
"For the last decade, Ohioans have lived with some of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the country and the Republicans just managed to propose two maps that are even worse than the one we have now," she said. "It's clear that the Republicans are approaching this redistricting cycle just as they did the one in 2011 with maps drawn in secret, without any real interest in public input, and with egregiously gerrymandered district lines."
Both maps would dilute the voting power of major Democratic cities. Both maps divided the city of Cincinnati, which President Joe Biden won with 57% of the vote, into neighboring Republican districts. The House map would split the city of Toledo while the Senate map would combine the city with several Republican-dominated counties, making it unlikely that Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, could win re-election. The House GOP would split Akron, another typically Democratic city, into two Republican districts while the Senate GOP would combine it with nearby Republican areas.
"Lawmakers should not be able to insulate themselves from the views of their constituents through a rigged system of gerrymandering," Kaptur told the Ohio Capital Journal. "The proposals unveiled today are a clear violation of this most basic principle."
District maps are typically enacted for 10-year periods between censuses but 60% of lawmakers, including 33% of Democrats, would have to approve the maps for them to be on the books for the next decade. Republicans can still approve the new map for a four-year period with a simple majority as long as it is deemed to meet certain constitutional criteria. The legislature has until Nov. 30 to approve a map.
Marc Elias, a prominent Democratic attorney and founder of Democracy Docket, vowed to sue the state if the House map is enacted.
"This nakedly partisan attempt to further rig the system in their favor is not only unacceptable, it's unconstitutional," Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Matt Keyes told the Columbus Dispatch. "There's no world in which Ohio Democrats are going to stand by silently as the Ohio GOP tramples on the Constitution and the will of Ohio voters."
The state's bipartisan commission did not fare much better when it drew new maps for districts in Ohio's state legislature. The panel's Republican majority in September approved maps that would give Republicans 64% of legislative seats, despite winning 54% of the statewide vote. Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican who served on the commission, expressed frustration that the maps were not "more constitutional" and acknowledged that "this matter will be in court." Multiple voting rights groups have filed lawsuits over the maps, accusing the panel of an illegal partisan gerrymander.
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Republicans, who are widely expected to win back control of the U.S. House next year, are working to expand their advantage across the country in the redistricting process. While Democrats are moving to carve out additional seats in states like Illinois, New York and Oregon, Republicans have total control of the redistricting process in far more states.
Alabama Republicans on Monday advanced a new district map that Democrats decried as racist. Though the state is 26% Black, the map packs many Black voters into one majority-Black district while the other six are overwhelmingly white.
Alabama's Black voters "continue to be marginalized" by the state's gerrymandering, said former Attorney General Eric Holder, chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.
"With the passage of maps that clearly dilute the influence of Alabama's communities of color, the state legislature's Republican majority is running a clinic on how not to have a fair and transparent redistricting process," he said in a statement. "These elected officials had the opportunity to pass maps that reflect the state's growing diversity while also incorporating input from the public hearings, and they failed."
A federal court in 2017 ordered Alabama Republicans to redraw some of its state legislative districts over illegal racial gerrymandering. The state faces a separate lawsuit alleging that it also "racially gerrymandered" its congressional map by packing as "many minorities as possible" into a single district.
While Ohio and Alabama are still working on their maps, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has already signed into law a new congressional map that dilutes the voting power of people of color. The state, which has a long history of racial gerrymanders, saw 95% of its population growth among communities of color, but its new maps shrink the number of minority-majority districts while expanding the power of white voters. Multiple Latino voting rights groups have sued over the new maps, accusing the state of an "unlawful attempt to thwart the changing Texas electorate."
Read more on the redistricting battle ahead of the crucial 2022 midterms: