U.S. voters are no stranger to gerrymandering. The term has been around for over a century now and describes the process of drawing boundaries of congressional districts that give one party an advantage over another. Considering the U.S. is a strictly two-party system, harsh gerrymandering can have a major impact on congressional elections.
The state of Ohio has just seen this practice in action as they are submitting a new map of congressional districts. The state recently lost a congressional seat moving it from 16 to 15 seats in the House. This new congressional map was originally approved by Ohio Republicans, however, the Ohio Supreme Court invalidated it stating that it was “infused with undue partisan bias.” The map heavily favored Republican candidates over Democratic ones as it would’ve given them a 12-3 advantage over the Democratic party. Because of this clear bias toward Republicans, the court rejected the map in a 4-3 ruling. This comes as Ohioans voted in 2018 to prevent a map that unfairly favored one party over another. The people have spoken, and they are calling for fair districts.
Many saw this as a win for democracy as gerrymandering takes away a lot of power from the voters and gives it to the political parties. Recently, the polarization between the two parties has increased, and it seems as if Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on anything. This kind of rivalry can be very dangerous to the foundations of democracy. When parties stop being able to work together, they will do anything to gain power and control over the other. A major way of doing this is by gaining seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Increased legislative power means a lot to a party. Keeping a check on redistricting means that the balances in place that are supposed to prevent these kinds of unconstitutional power grabs are working.
In a state like Ohio, it is especially important to reject this blatant gerrymandering as it is a historically key swing state in many elections. The state voted for both Obama and Trump twice, showing that it has no allegiance to one party. A key to maintaining democracy is a change in power every so often. If one party holds control for an extended period of time, it can seem as though they have all of the power which is inherently non-democratic. The U.S. is built on the idea of a balance between the two ruling parties, and as we see the divide between the Republican and Democratic parties increase, it is extremely important that they aren’t allowed to bypass the democratic process in order to get a leg up on the opposing side.
There are many states in the U.S. that have been predominantly ruled by one party for a long time, but there are outliers every so often which can disrupt this pattern showing that there is still somewhat of a balance between the parties. If Ohio were to pass a congressional district map as partisan as the one proposed, it would mean that Republicans would have immense power over a state which doesn’t necessarily favor them.
The citizens of America hold political power through their vote, and if they aren’t being fairly and accurately represented, that is an attack on the foundations of democracy in this country. Once parties start putting their own agendas ahead of the interests of the voters, there is a clear issue. An elimination of checks and balances is also a signal of a backsliding democracy, so it is reassuring to see that the Ohio Supreme Court is upholding that power.
While the originally proposed map was rejected in mid-January, the lawmakers who are drawing it will introduce a new one within the next couple of weeks, although most find it unlikely to pass. The group that is drawing these lines is composed of a few Republican lawmakers. This shows clear bias and is why it is unlikely their efforts to redistrict will get by. The map also has to be approved by both the Ohio House and Senate. Since the Republican party doesn’t hold the majority needed in the state House, they would need help from some Democrats. Once again, it is nice to see that the systems in place to keep one group from taking too much power, even on the state level, are still in working order.
Considering the map affects the results of the national legislative body, it is important to keep an eye on it. This slow, tedious nature of this process is also a good sign of a working democracy. When major congressional changes are able to pass quickly and with little resistance, it shows a weakened democratic process which is designed to be difficult to change.
Ohio has historically been attacked for its unfair districts. As with many states, major urban areas are often split into multiple districts. This benefits Republicans as cities tend to lean more to the left. In states like North Carolina which is split about 50/50 between Republican and Democratic voters, the congressional districts heavily favor the Republican party. If Ohio is able to come up with a map that doesn’t show harsh gerrymandering it would be a huge win for voters. If not, it would show just how little policy-makers care about the people.
The new map, whenever it is approved, is sure to favor Republicans. The real question is by how much. While it is unlikely that there will be no gerrymandering in the new map, it is reassuring to see that blatantly partisan districts are being rejected. The U.S. has a real problem with gerrymandering, and the more states that work to change these issues, the better off our democracy will be.
Overall, the current process of redistricting Ohio shows that while the increased polarization of the United State’s political parties has led to some attempts at non-democratic power grabs through things such as gerrymandering, the existing systems in place are able to keep a check on these processes. There are still balances that keep the democratic process alive in a nation that has seen its fair share of non-democratic events in the past decade.