Legislative redistricting reform has been a major topic of debate across the United States. Reform advocates believe the more competitive legislative districts, particularly for the U.S. House of Representatives will result in more balanced public policy flowing out of the Congress and Statehouses around the United States. According to the Brennen Center for Justice, nearly 150 bills addressing redistricting procedures have been introduced in states around the country that would change – and in some cases significantly overhaul – how redistricting is done after the 2020 Census, now less than three years away. State redistricting reform proposals include:
- 25 states proposed some form of a commission (advisory, backup, or independent) to draw congressional and/or legislative districts;
- 19 states would explicitly prohibit districts lines from being drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent;
- 15 states would ban the use of political data to draw districts.
- 22 states would create or clarify the criteria to be used in drawing maps, such as requiring preservation of communities of interest; and
- 21 states would establish requirements for public engagement in the redistricting process.
Congressional redistricting reform advocates point to a recent Cleveland Plain Dealer analysis that found in analyzing election results covering the last 448 races going back to 1972, the current Congressional Districts are the least competitive in over 45 years. The Cleveland Plain Dealer examined the election results, removing votes for the handful of third-party and independent candidates in order to allow for a cleaner look at the trends that included:
- In 2016, when the average margin of victory for Ohio’s 16 races was 36.3 points, the closest race wasn’t close at all, decided by 18.4 points;
- In 2014, the closest race was 20.3 points, while three-quarters of the races were decided by 30 points or more;
- In 2012, there were two close races – decided by 4.1 points and 6.5 points. This was the last time races have been decided by single-digits;
- No seat has changed party hands since 2012 – the first election with the current maps – with the GOP winning the same 12 seats and Democrats winning the same four seats in each of the last three elections–checking records back to 1972, there was not another instance of party control staying the same for the first three elections with new maps.
- The maps don’t reflect the political makeup of the state. Republicans in the last three elections have claimed 75 percent of the U.S. House races while winning 56 percent of the overall vote.
Under the threat of a Congressional redistricting ballot initiative, the Ohio General Assembly placed a Congressional Redistricting issue on the May 8th Primary Ballot. Ohioans will have the opportunity to ratify via constitutional amendment, the manner in which Ohio’s Congressional districts are drawn. Known as Issue 1, the proposed plan is the result of negotiations between legislative Republicans and Democrats earlier this year, and is in response to concerns that the current districting process is one which too heavily favors the party in political power. In fact, a group called Fair Districts = Fair Elections had been formed to pursue a ballot initiative to put in place its own plan, which would have primarily shifted redistricting powers from the legislature to a bi-partisan commission. However, once the legislature was able to agree to the process outlined in Issue 1, that group called off its efforts.
The following is an outline of the redistricting process that is being proposed by Issue 1:
- The Ohio legislature would be required to adopt a 10-year congressional redistricting plan with 60 percent of members in each chamber voting in favor and 50 percent of Republicans and 50 percent of Democrats (or whichever two parties have the most members in the legislature) voting in favor.
- Should the state legislature fail to meet these vote requirements, then the seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission, established through Issue 1 in 2015, would get a chance to adopt a 10-year congressional redistricting plan, with support from at least two members of the minority party.
- Should the commission fail to adopt a plan, the legislature would get a second opportunity to adopt a 10-year plan, but with a lesser requirement of one-third of the members from the two major parties supporting the proposal.
- Failure at this stage would result in the legislature adopting a plan through a simple majority vote, with no bipartisan vote requirement, and with the plan lasting two general election cycles (four years), rather than 10 years.
If approved by the voters, Issue 1 would take effect on January 1, 2021, and apply to congressional redistricting following the 2020 census.