A group of Democrats in Ohio are suing to redraw the electoral maps there.
The plaintiffs in the suit are a group of Ohio Democrat voters. They claim that the Ohio congressional maps, which have been in use for six years, give Republicans an unfair advantage in Ohio elections for the House of Representatives.
Democrat voters from all 16 of Ohio’s House districts filed their suit against John Kasich and other Ohio Republicans. They claim that partisan gerrymandering by Ohio Republicans has violated Ohio voters constitutional rights.
Now is the right moment for a lawsuit of this sort, too. The Supreme Court is examining two gerrymandering cases, from Maryland and Wisconsin, and will issue a ruling in those cases by the end of June. The way the Court rules on the Maryland and Wisconsin cases will undoubtedly have a major impact on this new lawsuit in Ohio.
The ACLU is representing the plaintiffs in this suit, and it will be the first challenge against Ohio’s electoral map because of alleged “partisan bias”. The issue of partisan election bias is a familiar one in elitist political circles. On the off chance that you’re a Real American who works for a living, here’s a brief explainer:
First, one party (usually the Republicans) puts up a strong ground game, focusing donor dollars into a grassroots campaigning machine. That grassroots operation raises support for state legislature candidates who would otherwise not draw a lot of media attention.
Those candidates go on to win their races. When one party (nearly always Republicans, for what it’s worth) gets a significant majority in the state legislature, they usually tend to hang on to it.
Eventually, redistricting time rolls around again. This happens once every ten years, and in the vast majority of states, the redistricting process is handled by the state legislature. (Which is, again, usually Republican.)
“Redistricting” is just a fancy word for the process by which politicians decide which people they will be representing. You might say: “That’s funny, I thought the people were supposed to pick which politicians represented them?”
Oh, you sweet summer child.
In any case, once the politicians are done deciding which groups of people they want to be voting for them, they draw a fun little map to sort these actual communities into “districts.” If the Republicans hold the state legislature (and, again, they usually do), they will do a neat bit of sketch work to give themselves an advantage in their elections. (Usually they give the real Congressmen an advantage too.)
This process is called “gerrymandering”. It’s something that both parties have done all down through the history of our country. There are two main ways that gerrymandering goes down, and they’re often called “packing and cracking” by the kind of people that majored in Political Science in college and haven’t done much with their lives since.
Packing is when the state legislature (usually Republican) draws one big lasso around all the little Democrat communities in their state. Then they call that one district. And since one district can only ever have one representative, they know that district will always go Dem.
But it’ll only ever be one Dem, from one district. In a majority Republican state, this works just fine, and you can usually get away with it too. Whereas if they had left the Democrat neighborhoods un-packed, maybe there could have been more difficult races for Republicans in other districts, or maybe even some swing districts which go back and forth year to year. (Career politicians hate those kinds of districts. No job security.)
Cracking is the exact opposite. In a state with a more even spread of Democrats and Republicans, whoever controls the legislature (still pretty much always the Republicans) will draw out the map more carefully. The Republicans will draw a lovely little map that sorts all their state’s little Democrat neighborhoods neatly into otherwise Republican districts.
This dilutes the overall electoral strength of the state’s Democrat population. Sure, some legislators in mixed-party districts might have more of a run for their money, but overall there will usually be fewer Dems elected than there would be if they kept the Dem districts intact.
These tactics might seem dirty to the uninitiated. But they’re nothing new. Both parties gerrymander whenever they get the chance. If you control the statehouse, you get to set the rules of the game. And if you set the rules in your favor, well, so be it. You know damn well the other guys will do the same once they get the chance.
But lately Republicans are really getting slammed for gerrymandering. But that’s only because they’ve won so many state legislatures. After the 2016 election, Republicans were left in total control of the state legislatures in 33 states.
By contrast, the Democrats only had total control of 13 states. Dems and Reps shared power in 4 states. (And by shared power I mean that one side had the state house and one side had the state senate.)
I mean, damn. This means that Republicans are setting the rules of the game in well over half of America. And this Republican wave has sprung up more or less in the blink of an eye. Eight years ago, in 2010, Republicans only controlled 14 states. (Largely thanks to the Democrats’ own gerrymandering efforts.)
How did the GOP, in less than a decade, pull off such a total rout of the Democrats in state legislatures?
Simple. The GOP poured money and time into the campaigns of state legislators across the country. They focused on the grassroots and built a machine that could get Real Americans out to vote even in “boring” state rep elections.
The Democrats, meanwhile, courted the attention of the national media and focused on big, theatrical races. They let the grassroots whither up and die.
Ultimately, the status quo is never stable in politics. Seasons come and go. Political power changes hands. One side gerrymanders the other, and then gets gerrymandered in turn. Unless something big happens with these anti-gerrymandering suits now before the Supreme Court (and you shouldn’t count on that), nothing will change.
So Republicans ought to make hay while the sun is high. They certainly earned their chance to do so.