FAQs about Redistricting

What is the Fair Districts Coalition? 

Fair Districts Ohio is committed to fairer state legislative and congressional maps.

We are a non-partisan team of voting rights experts and organizations working to create a better and more equitable representational democracy. The coalition includes Common Cause Ohio, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Ohio Council of Churches, and the Ohio Voter Rights Coalition

What is apportionment? 

Apportionment of Congressional seats is in the US Constitution. The US Census Bureau is tasked with counting all the people in the United States every ten years. This department conducted the 2020 Census and is now tasked with one of their most important jobs, apportionment. The Census Bureau will first determine the total population of the United States and then apportion or determine how many seats in the US House of Representatives each state will receive for the following decade (2021-2031). There are 435 seats to be divided by population. In the past decade, Ohio had 16 congressional districts but it is likely that the state will have fewer going forward.

When do we expect the Census Bureau to provide the Apportionment Count?

The Census Bureau has announced that the apportionment count including the total population of each state and the number of seats apportioned to each state will be available on April 30

What other ways is census information used?

Population information from the Census will also be used for state legislative districts but the number of districts is in the Ohio Constitution. There are 33 Ohio Senate districts and 99 Ohio House of Representative districts. Detailed census block data organized by the Census Bureau will provide specific information so that legislative district lines can be redrawn to ensure roughly equal population in each district. This redistricting data will be sent to the states on September 30

Do districts need to be equal in population?

Districts don’t have to be absolutely the same population size but fairly close. The legal concept of “one person, one votewas established in the 1960s. Prior to these decisions, some districts remained unchanged for many years despite population changes, leading to voters in rural areas having more voting power than those urban voters living in more populous cities. 

What is partisan gerrymandering?

Gerrymandering occurs when legislative districts are drawn to intentionally favor one political party over the other. Traditionally, the political party in power in the state legislature has drawn districts to disadvantage the other party. Elected officials of both political parties have marginalized the other party, but the ability to gerrymander and truly manipulate district lines has accelerated because of the use of computers for map-making. The term gerrymandering comes from a political cartoon drawn in 1812 of a newly created district that looked like a salamander. This district was approved by Massachusetts Gov Elbridge Gerry. Gerrymandering is a palindrome of “Gerry” and the last syllable of salamander. 

Who is Elbridge Gerry?

Elbridge Gerry signed the Declaration of Independence, advocated for the Bill of Rights, and served as James Madison’s vice president. He is best known for drawing a district that looks like a salamander that was intended to marginalize the opposition. 

How do mapmakers manipulate legislative districts?

There are two primary ways that map-makers gerrymander: packing and cracking. Packing involves putting as many voters of the opposite political party in the same district so that the opponent simply has fewer seats. Cracking focuses on dividing communities so that they favor the opposing party so that those votes are overwhelmed by the opposition. 

Sometimes districts are manipulated to place two incumbents of the political party out of power in the same district. Congressional District 9 was created in order to pit incumbents Marcy Kaptur of Toledo against Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland.

During the 2011 map-making, consultants changed congressional district lines to include the Timken Manufacturing Plant so that it became part of the 16th Congressional District. The Timken family are major GOP-donor and Jane Timken was recently the chair of the Ohio Republican Party. 

Do consultants draw the congressional districts or do the legislators?

Consultants are hired to help the officials who will give their final approval. These consultants are experts on the mapping software and will create the new district lines based on directions from elected officials. In 2011, the Republican State Leadership Committee and Team Boehner, created by former Speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner, drove many redistricting decisions. The late Thomas Hofeller, a well-known Republican consultant weighed in on Ohio’s congressional district lines

How will redistricting be different in 2021?

In 2015, Ohio voters overwhelmingly supported state legislative redistricting reform and in 2018, voters followed up by passing congressional redistricting reform. These reforms were placed in the Ohio Constitution and both reform efforts won in all 88 Ohio counties and by more than 70% of the vote. These reforms focus on encouraging bipartisan map-making and establishing rules that focus on keeping communities or political subdivisions together. Public hearings were added to encourage public participation and more transparency.

Who is actually tasked with approving congressional districts?

The principle map-makers are state legislators. However, the Ohio Redistricting Commission does step in if the state legislature isn’t able to agree on new congressional district lines. 

Who is tasked with approving state legislative district lines?

The Ohio Redistricting Commission:

  • Governor Mike DeWine (Republican)
  • Auditor Keith Faber (Republican)
  • Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (Republican)
  • Appointed by Speaker Bob Cupp (Republican)
  • Appointed by House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (Democrat)
  • Appointed by Senate President Matt Huffman (Republican)
  • Appointed by Minority Leader Kenny Yuko (Democrat)

Ohio House and Senate leaders can select themselves to serve on the Ohio Redistricting Commission. 

The reforms focus on bipartisan map-making. What about voters who are independents?

Gerrymandering impacts all voters because it takes away voter choice. The manipulation of district lines leads to fewer competitive elections and less accountability. Hyper-partisan districts are particularly problematic for independent voters who vote in the General Elections for their favorite candidates. Because the districts swing heavily towards one political party, the Primary Elections become much more important. These early competitive primary elections without a competitive general election lead to the election of more ideologically driven candidates. 

How will public hearings about the maps work? Does that involve driving to Columbus or is it possible to participate by Zoom?

The Ohio Constitution requires three public hearings for state legislative maps and two public hearings for congressional maps after a plan — or map– has been introduced. The Ohio Redistricting Commission has not convened to establish a schedule for public hearings. The state legislature has not created a schedule either. 

In 2001 and 2011, there were hearing before the maps were proposed. Public deliberation is so important. We will advocacy for extensive hearings before the creation of the maps. In 2011, these hearings were held in Athens, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Lima. It is not clear that virtual hearings will be established. The state legislature has not established virtual hearings for other bills but organizations have been lobbying for virtual testimony for all bills. 

How realistic is it to think that if individuals draw maps that they will even be considered?

It’s easy to get discouraged especially when we know that the mapmakers paid no attention whatsoever to the maps created in 2011. However, Ohioans overwhelmingly supported state legislative and congressional redistricting reform. Both efforts won in 88 counties and by more than 70% of the vote! Ohios expect fairer maps and the maps created by Ohioans can provide significant pressure, especially on the Ohio Redistricting Commission. Three of these members are up for election in 2022. The maps created by ordinary Ohioans can also provide alternatives for the Ohio Supreme Court to consider if the maps are challenged as gerrymanders or of violating the rules in the Ohio Constitution. 

What are the rules for congressional districts and the division of counties?

The number of splits permitted is not the number of splits required. The Ohio Constitution does not identify conditions but all splits should be as necessary. 

Of Ohio’s 88 counties:

  • at least 65 counties shall be contained entirely within a district, 
  • up to 18 counties may be split not more than once, 
  • up to 5 counties may be split not more than twice.

Congressional mapmaking focuses on creating bipartisan maps but if that fails. Four-year maps can be created. What are the rules for these four-year maps?

For four-year congressional maps, it is necessary to create a narrative explaining all the mapmaking decisions including why communities are split. Additionally, there is a clear rule against drawing districts to favor or disfavor one political party or one candidate over another and the rules for dividing political subdivision is more severe. There are also stricter rules about community preservation: “The General Assembly shall not unduly split governmental units.” As opposed to giving some leeway on splits, the state legislature is required to keep political subdivisions whole (first counties, then cities, and finally townships). 

If we end up with maps that are gerrymandered again, could we take that to the Ohio Supreme Court? Would that do any good?

If the new district lines violate the Ohio Constitution, these lines can be challenged in court. In 2014, the Fair Districts = Fair Elections team worked with Prof. Dick Gunther to ensure that the rules for mapmaking are clearly prioritized. When the state legislative districts were challenged in 2011 (Wilson v. Kasich), the majority identified that it couldn’t weigh in on the maps because the goals were in conflict. The new amendments to the Ohio Constitution were intentionally written to identify priorities. Since 2012, when the districts were challenged, the Ohio Supreme Court has become more balanced.


Voting Rights Act and Racial Gerrymandering

After the Civil War, the Fifteenth Amendment was passed so that ‘The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.’ As a result, over one thousand Black Americans in the Southern United States were elected to office, including sixteen to the U.S. Congress. In response, Southern states enacted onerous measures – poll taxes, literacy tests, and violence were common – that disproportionately burdened Americans of color. In Mississippi, for example, only 6.7% of eligible Black Americans were registered to vote in 1964. 

Stirred to action by the shocking violence directed at peaceful protestors at Selma, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Voting Rights Act worked to ensure the original aims of the Fifteenth Amendment were enforced – namely that no American should have their right to vote denied based on their race or color. Two main provisions, Section II and Section V, helped actuate this goal. The first affirmed that no qualification or procedure shall be enforced that ‘results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.’ Section V required that, for states with a history of discrimination, any change to voting rights or procedure must be ‘pre-cleared’ by the federal government before that change is put into place. 

The Voting Rights Act was immediately effective. By the end of 1965, a quarter-million Black Americans had been registered to vote. Within the next year, Black voter registration hit more than fifty-percent in most Southern states. As a result, Black Americans gained political representation at all levels of government. 

Even after the passing of the Voting Rights Act, Americans of color faced repeated challenges to their right to vote. Through race-based gerrymandering, the effective political power of minority voters was regularly diluted through ‘cracking.’ In these cases, minority Americans – who oftentime have similar political interests and thus often vote for the same candidate – would be ‘cracked’ across multiple political districts, so that they would be unable to elect their candidate of choice. The “Gingles Test,” named after the Supreme Court case Thornburg v Gingles (1986), details how aggrieved voters can argue that their right to vote has been diluted based on racial gerrymandering. If plaintiffs can show the following three points, they can be successful in demanding that the political maps be redrawn:

  1. The racial or language minority group “is sufficiently numerous and compact to form a majority in a single-member district”;
  2. The minority group is “politically cohesive” (meaning its members tend to vote similarly); 
  3. And the “majority votes sufficiently as a bloc to enable it … usually to defeat the minority’s preferred candidate.”

Voting Rights in the Courts: Where are We Now?

In Baker v. Carr (1961), the Supreme Court began to outline when the judicial branch could make decisions on the fairness of political district maps. Usually, the judicial branch is hesitant to rule on political matters so that it can maintain its independence. However, if political maps are so egregiously drawn that they abridge one’s right to vote, Baker v. Carr ruled that the courts can, under specific circumstances, step in. 

Thanks to Baker, the Supreme Court would rule in Reynolds v. Sims (1964) that ‘one person, one vote’ should be the lay of the land. Previously, some districts were drawn according to town or county lines. This would result in ‘malapportionment,’ where one legislator would represent, in some cases, 100x the number of constituents when compared with other legislators! Effectively, this would ‘dilute’ the power of one’s vote. As a result, Reynolds ruled that districts must include roughly the same number of voters. 

The power of the federal government to protect voting rights has been curbed by the courts in recent years. In Shelby v. Holder (2013), the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Section V of the Voting Rights Act, which required states with a history of discrimination to ‘pre-clear’ new voting procedures, was no longer necessary. In the wake of Shelby, state legislatures across the country felt they had free reign to institute burdensome restrictions, such as strict voter ID laws that target young voters and voters of color with ‘surgical precision.’ Again along 5-4 lines, the Supreme Court ruled in Rucho v. Common Cause (2019) that the Court lacks jurisdiction to rule on partisan gerrymandered maps – though, crucially, the Court can still address maps gerrymandered on racial lines. 

Sometime in 2021, the Supreme Court will rule on the applicability of Section II of the Voting Rights Act after the Ninth Circuit of Appeals found that an Arizona law held a discriminatory impact on American Indian, Hispanic, and African-American voters. 


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