Legal with Leah: Ohio Election Map Redistricting

Who you vote for and who you vote with may be changing as Ohio’s election map gets a refresh through a process called redistricting. For this Legal with Leah, Ohio Farm Bureau’s Policy Counsel, Leah Curtis, talks more about the process, how it works and what it means for Ohioans.



Listen to Legal with Leah, a podcast featuring Ohio Farm Bureau’s Policy Counsel Leah Curtis discussing topics impacting farmers and landowners.


Ty Higgins [00:00:00] Who you vote for and who you vote with may be changing as Ohio’s election map gets a refresh through a process called redistricting. I’m Ty Higgins, and for this Legal with Leah, let’s talk more about the process, how it works and what it means for Ohioans with Ohio Farm Bureau Policy Counsel Leah Curtis.

Ty Higgins [00:00:18] So since the last census, Ohioans voted to approve new methods for drawing state legislative and congressional district lines into our state constitution. Why did we get a new process?

Leah Curtis [00:00:28] Nationwide, not just here in Ohio, but nationwide, there’s been lots of criticism of map drawing in general, particularly around gerrymandering, which of course is drawing district lines to favor one party or another or favor certain officials. And so voters of all demographics and really all party affiliations generally say they dislike gerrymandering. It’s unfair, it’s not transparent, and they don’t want to see it in their districts. In addition to that, we had a lot of litigation around the country over the drawing of legislative districts, including here in Ohio, basically saying that by drawing district lines that overwhelmingly favor one party or another, and both parties were implicated in this, that that violates the constitutional rights of voters to be represented by their elected officials. So though the U.S. Supreme Court did not choose to rule on that issue, (they determined that it was a political question, which they do not decide. They decide legal questions). But all of that resulted in really nationwide a desire for more transparent and more bipartisan processes for drawing these maps. And so Ohioans had on their ballot over the last couple of years, two different times that we voted, to reform this process to try to make it more transparent and more bipartisan for us as voters.

Ty Higgins [00:01:48] Now, legislative districts are drawn every 10 years after a new U.S. census is conducted. And historically, maps were drawn and stayed in place for that 10-year period after the census. What changes were required for Ohio’s state legislative districts, talking about our state senators and state reps in Columbus?

Leah Curtis [00:02:05] The hope and the theory is that we would still have a 10-year map, though the process can result in a different situation. So we have a redistricting commission somewhat similar to what we had before– the governor, the auditor, the secretary of state and then two representatives from the Senate and two representatives from the House, one from each party create this commission. And they have a set of new criteria that are focused largely on keeping communities together and increasing transparency around map drawing. They have limitations on how much they can split a county and municipalities and township boundaries to try to keep those communities together and an actual prohibition on using lines to favor or disfavor a party.

So when they vote on these maps it’s kind of where we get to the difference. They have to have at least two members of the minority party on the commission vote for the maps. If that doesn’t happen, then the map is going to only last for four years and that commission will have to reconvene to create a second map for the other six years of that 10-year term. And then those criteria that are listed in the Constitution now, those will be enforceable through litigation. So that the maps could be taken to court. The court can say you didn’t meet these criteria or these maps are not fulfilling these requirements. And you have to go back and create a new map. So the court could tell the commission, you’ve got to start over; you’ve got to fix whatever criteria you didn’t meet.

Ty Higgins [00:03:30] How about for Ohio’s congressional districts or your members of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.? What does this mean?

Leah Curtis [00:03:37] These are just for your House of Representatives in D.C., in Congress. But this one is a number of steps that have to be met. It’s a little bit of a choose your adventure. So we start with the Legislature, the Ohio Legislature. They can adopt a 10-year map, but they have to have 60% of members voting for it and at least 50% of the members of each party voting for it. So, for example, in the Senate, that would mean about 20 senators have to vote for it and that has to include half the Republicans, half the Democrats. If that fails, then we go back to that commission, similar to what we had with our state legislative districts. They can try to adopt a 10-year map. Again, they have to have at least two votes from each party to support those maps.

If that can’t happen, we go back to the Statehouse. The Legislature gets a second bite at the apple. They still need 60% of the votes, but now they only need a third of the members of each party. If they still can’t get to that, they can adopt the map by a simple vote with no bipartisan requirement. So a simple majority. But again, that map is only going to be good for four years. So there’s also stricter requirements than there have been in the past about drawing district lines to favor or disfavor political parties or candidates or incumbents. So there will be a little bit stricter requirements once they get to that point of just having a simple majority. And again, we have to start the process over again for that remaining six years of the term.

Ty Higgins [00:04:57] And even though we’re talking about redistricting here in the state of Ohio, there are federal laws put in place for this process as well.

Leah Curtis [00:05:04] Across the country, all of these state legislative districts, your representative districts, they have to comply with certain federal requirements. So kind of the big one, first one is the one person, one vote rule. And that’s essentially districts have to be about the same size–+ that comes out of a Supreme Court case from the 1960s and then some ensuing after that. And then of course, there’s the Voting Rights Act, which makes sure that no certain group of people has their vote diluted to the point that they are unable to participate in government. So that prohibits discrimination in voting and there are some certain requirements that have to be met to comply with the Voting Rights Act as well.