Ohio’s ruling Republican leaders are counting on the U.S. Supreme Court to give them one more predetermined election outcome in 2020. That’s why they’re coming up with so many excuses not to remedy their rigged congressional district map judged unconstitutional by a federal court.
Make no mistake. Our Republican governor, attorney general, secretary of state and legislative chiefs have no interest in leveling the election playing field in the public interest. They want to postpone or prevent change in district boundaries — egregiously skewed to favor Republicans — to ensure that the presidential contest goes the way the past four predetermined elections in the state have gone.
Redistricting worked exactly as planned by GOP mapmakers to guarantee durable one-party dominance in Ohio after the 2010 census.
Attorneys for Republicans defended those fail-safe district configurations in federal court as “incumbency protection,” something both parties supported over the years. But the court saw something far more nefarious. It saw what Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected as grossly unfair. It saw how radical manipulation of district lines produced sure-fire election wins for Republicans in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018.
The three-judge panel unanimously concluded that the Republican-inspired map of Ohio’s congressional districts was created with “invidious partisan intent” in violation of the Constitution. Gerrymandered districts locked in candidates from the mapmakers’ party effectively rendering the beliefs, views and votes of Ohioans with other party affiliations moot.
If you happened to be a Democrat-leaning voter in Ohio deliberately drawn into a district packed with reliable Republican voters, post-2011, your vote was basically meaningless. Your Republican representative, firmly planted in a distant base, was comfortably entrenched in office and safely inoculated against any competition of candidates or ideas.
Nothing you did by way of demonstrations, campaigns or voting could change a thing because the ratio of Republican to Democratic voters was hopelessly perverted to keep the district a solid red. That is an outrageous affront to representative democracy. That is Ohio gerrymandering in the extreme.
It fortified Republican power in the Statehouse and on Capitol Hill by diluting Democrats’ votes to the point of irrelevancy. The result, in illegally gerrymandered districts, was a wild distortion of Ohio’s roughly 50-50 political makeup of Republicans and Democrats.
After redistricting, Republican candidates garnered just over half of the statewide vote but won 75 percent of Ohio’s 16 congressional seats. The outcome was identical for every election. Talk about voter disenfranchisement writ large.
Ohio Democrats were jammed into just four irregularly shaped barely contiguous districts cobbled together to weaken the party’s political clout in the state. The contours of some districts strained credulity.
Ohio’s 9th District is derisively dubbed the “snake on the lake” because it snakes for over a 100 miles along Lake Erie — including a stretch of beach — concentrating pockets of Democrats from Toledo to the west-side of Cleveland. Ohio’s 4th District neutralizes Democrats in Elyria, Lorain and parts of Erie counties with Republican-filled rural counties that weave south to near Columbus and west to almost the Indiana border.
This is not what electoral or ideological competition looks like in a vibrant republic of, by and for the people. This is what intentionally orchestrated electoral outcomes look like with politicians picking and packing voters — instead of the other way around — to keep winning. This is what the court struck down as an unconstitutional burden on “voters and certain organizations to advance their aims, be they pro-Democratic or pro-democracy.”
The court ordered Republican lawmakers to produce new district lines in time for the 2020 election. It’s only fair. But leading Republican officeholders in the state continue to thumb their noses at voters, hoping the clock runs out to right a wrong before the presidential election.
As attorney general, Mike DeWine tried to block the voter lawsuit challenging Ohio’s gerrymandered districts. As governor, DeWine again tried to quash the lawsuit by questioning the “specific injury” of advocates for voters reduced to insignificant in districts stacked to protect Republican incumbents.
Other top Republicans, from Attorney General Dave Yost to Senate President Larry Obhof, joined the campaign to blunt, appeal, diminish and spin the lawsuit against gerrymandering and the federal ruling as — get this — an unfair, politically motivated stunt pulled at the expense of Ohio voters to help Democrats win more elections. Yost even professed concern about poor voters being confused with all the talk of new (and constitutional) maps being drawn immediately. Why rush when a new redistricting process would do that in 2021?
DeWine and Co. are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will give them a pass on fixing congressional districts that deny voice to thousands of Ohio voters. They don’t care about fair. Whatever happens, remember whose interests our Republican governor, attorney general and legislative leaders shamelessly chose over ours.
Johanek is a veteran print and broadcast journalist.