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How one state’s GOP created a case study in ugly gerrymandering

This article was published September 17th on MSNBC and can be found here.

In theory, voters in Ohio shouldn’t have to worry too much about excessive gerrymandering in the Buckeye State. After all, the state twice approved amendments to the Ohio Constitution that appeared to be designed to produce fairer and more representative district maps.

In practice, it’s not quite working out that way.

With Ohio voters giving Republican legislative candidates roughly 54 percent of the vote, one might expect to see a state map in which the GOP was on track to hold roughly 54 percent of the seats. But according to the plan created by the Republican-led redistricting commission, the legislative map will position GOP legislators to enjoy supermajorities in Columbus.

But what about the state law that says maps “must correspond closely to the statewide preferences of the voters of Ohio” based on results from the past 10 years’ worth of elections? That’s where the amazing part begins: Republicans are arguing that they won races 81 percent of the time, which matters more than winning 54 percent of the vote. As a Washington Post analysis explained:

To recap, [Republicans on the state’s redistricting commission] say winning 81 percent of statewide races suggests the state’s preference for Republicans is as high as 81 percent, even though voters give those Republicans only around 54 percent of the vote in those races…. By this logic, you could seemingly draw up to 81 percent Republican districts, because that would fall within the range of statewide preferences.

In fact, we can extend that logic further. As Daily Kos Elections noted this morning, based on the Ohio GOP’s reasoning, Democrats in states like California and Virginia would be justified in giving their party 100% of the seats since Democratic candidates have won 100% of the statewide races over the last decade.

Indeed, the Post’s analysis added, “Democrats have won the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. Does that mean ‘the nationwide proportion of American voters favoring Democratic presidential candidates is as high as 87.5 percent’? Of course not. But perhaps Democrats would be justified in overhauling the electoral college or redrawing state lines to better reflect that obvious and strong nationwide preference for their candidates.”

Litigation is inevitable, and Republican Gov. Mike DeWine doesn’t seem optimistic. “We know that this matter will be in court,” the governor said this week. “What I am sure in my heart is that this committee could have come up with a bill that was much more clearly constitutional. I’m sorry that we did not do that.”

But the fact that GOP legislators are trying to pull off such a gambit anyway says a great deal about the party’s tolerance for abuses.

As for efforts at the federal level, the Senate Democrats’ Freedom to Vote Act would end partisan gerrymandering, but only in federal elections. Problems like the one Ohio Republicans are eager to create would persist even if the legislation were to become law.

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