Ohio gerrymandering struck down

I have written before about how Ohio congressional districts are so gerrymandered that election after election sees 12 Republicans and 4 Democrats being sent to Congress even though the popular vote is much closer to a 50-50 split. In the statehouse, Republicans won 62% of the seats while getting slightly fewer votes than Democrats

In a major victory today, a three-judge panel of federal judges unanimously ruled that the Ohio congressional map was unconstitutional because of blatant gerrymandering and had to be redrawn by June 14.

Here is text from the opinion. (No link because I got the pdf directly from the Ohio ACLU that successfully argued the case before the judges.)

In 2011, when Ohio’s redistricting process began, Republican dominance in the Ohio State government meant that Republican state legislators could push through a remarkably pro-Republican redistricting bill without meaningful input from their Democratic colleagues. Ohio Republicans took advantage of that opportunity, and invidious partisan intent—the intent to disadvantage Democratic voters and entrench Republican representatives in power—dominated the map-drawing process. They designed the 2012 map using software that allowed them to predict the partisan outcomes that would result from the lines they drew based on various partisan indices that they created from historical Ohio election data. The Ohio map drawers did not work alone, but rather national Republican operatives located in Washington, D.C. collaborated with them throughout the process. These national Republicans generated some of the key strategic ideas for the map, maximizing its likely pro-Republican performance, and had the authority to approve changes to the map before their Ohio counterparts implemented them. Throughout the process, the Ohio and national map drawers made decisions based on their likely partisan effects.

The map drawers focused on several key areas of the Ohio map where careful map design could eke out additional safe Republican seats. They split Hamilton County and the City of Cincinnati in a strange, squiggly, curving shape, dividing its Democratic voters and preventing them from forming a coherent voting bloc, which ensured the election of Republican representatives in Districts 1 and 2. They drew a new District 3 in Franklin County, efficiently concentrating Democratic voters together in an area sometimes referred to as the “Franklin County Sinkhole.” This strategy allowed them to secure healthy Republican majorities in neighboring Districts 12 and 15. They paired Democratic incumbent Representatives Kaptur and Kucinich to create the infamous “Snake on the Lake”—a bizarre, elongated sliver of a district that severed numerous counties. They drew a District 11 that departed from its traditional territory to snatch up additional African-American Democratic voters in Summit County, allowing for the creation of a new District 16 in which a Republican incumbent representative could defeat a Democratic incumbent representative. They designed these districts with one overarching goal in mind—the creation of an Ohio congressional map that would reliably elect twelve Republican representatives and four Democratic representatives.

Ohio Republican legislators enacted the first iteration of the 2012 map, H.B. 319, in September 2011. Ohio voters then challenged the map, seeking to subject it to a voter referendum, but their efforts failed. As a result, Ohio Republicans passed a slightly different version of the map, H.B. 369, in December 2011. The changes they made did not materially alter the strong pro-Republican partisan leaning of the map’s first iteration. Four cycles of congressional elections have occurred under the map embodied in H.B. 369. Each resulted in the election of twelve Republican representatives and four Democratic representatives. No district has been represented by representatives from different parties during the life of the map.

During a two-week trial, experts testified to the extremity of the gerrymander. They demonstrated that levels of voter support for Democrats can and have changed, but the map’s partisan output remains stubbornly undisturbed. The experts used various metrics and methodologies to measure their findings, but several takeaways were universal: (1) the Ohio map sacrifices respect for traditional districting principles in order to maximize pro-Republican partisan advantage, (2) the Ohio map’s pro-Republican partisan bias is extreme, compared both to historical plans across the United States and to other possible configurations that could have been adopted in Ohio, and (3) the Ohio map minimizes responsiveness and competition, rendering one consistent result no matter the particularities of the election cycle.

We join the other federal courts that have held partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional and developed substantially similar standards for adjudicating such claims. We are convinced by the evidence that this partisan gerrymander was intentional and effective and that no legitimate justification accounts for its extremity. Performing our analysis district by district, we conclude that the 2012 map dilutes the votes of Democratic voters by packing and cracking them into districts that are so skewed toward one party that the electoral outcome is predetermined. We conclude that the map unconstitutionally burdens associational rights by making it more difficult for voters and certain organizations to advance their aims, be they pro-Democratic or pro-democracy. We conclude that by creating such a map, the State exceeded its powers under Article I of the Constitution. Accordingly, we declare Ohio’s 2012 map an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, enjoin its use in the 2020 election, and order the enactment of a constitutionally viable replacement.

It is almost certain that this case will be appealed and very likely join other gerrymandering cases currently before the US Supreme Court.


  1. kremer says

    It’s good to know that some courts are taking that sort of thing seriously, but I don’t have high hopes for the Supreme Court doing anything fair or reasonable.

  2. johnson catman says

    North Carolina has been similarly gerrymandered. The vote counts for the US House in 2018 had republicans getting 50.3% of the overall vote but gaining 10 of the 13 seats. One district had a republican running unopposed, and one district has had a new election scheduled because of cheating by the republican. In the three districts that the democratic candidates won, they all took over 70% of the votes in the districts. For the winning republicans, their winning percentages were generally between 51% and 56%. The “packing and cracking” was definitely used in NC.

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