December 2011

Group says Ohio's New Congressional Map Lacks Competition, Fairness

By Joe Hallett
Columbus Dispatch Wednesday December 21, 2011 2:08 PM

Comments: 36 ShareThis Even the 450 members of Russia’s Duma are elected from districts that are fairer and more competitive than the 16 congressional districts drawn by Republicans controlling the Statehouse, an Ohio State University political scientist has concluded.

Richard Gunther today called the new congressional map signed into law last week by Gov. John Kasich “stunning” for its representational unfairness, saying it is twice as unfair as the next-worst democratic systems in the world.

“This is a very, very bad map,” said Gunther, a scholar of world democracies. “This is extremely unfair to the citizens of Ohio.”

Gunther and Daniel Tokaji, an OSU law professor specializing in election law, spoke at a news conference sponsored by a nonpartisan watchdog organization, the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting, to decry the secretive process of redrawing new congressional and legislative districts every 10 years and the outcome that resulted this year.

Referring to Ohio’s new congressional districts, Tokaji said, “This is the worst example of elected officials serving their own craven partisan interests of anywhere in the country.”

The group is exploring ways to remove the line-drawing process from politicians, including going to the November ballot with a referendum that would create a citizens commission to redraw congressional and legislative districts in 2013 for elections that would take place in 2014.

Under the current system, 16 members of Congress, 33 state senators and 99 Ohio House members will be elected in November to districts that will be in place for the rest of this decade.

Members of the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting — comprised of 25 nonpartisan groups such as the League of Women Voters of Ohio and Citizen Action Ohio — acknowledged that raising the minimum $2 million they believe is needed for a successful petition drive is a high hurdle.

The group’s analysis of the 16 new congressional districts found that just three of them are somewhat competitive, showing they favor GOP candidates from between 7.7 percentage points to 8.7 percentage points. Five districts were deemed noncompetitive, with partisan indexes favoring Republicans by 10-and-15 percentage points, and eight were highly noncompetitive, with four favoring Republicans and four favoring Democrats by margins of 15-to-59 percentage points.

Using an “electoral disproportionality” scale that compares established democracies around the world, Gunther said Ohio’s new districts are by far the worst in terms of representational unfairness. The average electoral disproportionality score among those democracies is 5, including for the U.S. as a whole. Canada and France score the worst, each at 12, but Ohio’s score is twice as unfair as those.

Even the Duma, the lower house of parliament in Russia — a questionable democracy — earns a score of 7 against Ohio’s 24 on the scale.

Gunther said any fair congressional district map should include three principles: competitiveness, compactness and keeping intact communities of interest.

“This map brutally violates all three of those principles,” Gunther said.

The group’s analysis of the congressional map also found:

There are 54 counties split into at least two districts, with seven split into three or more.

Republicans are virtually assured of winning 12 of the 16 districts, or 75 percent of them, even though Ohio is almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. The new map packs Democratic voters into four districts, giving the party majorities of between 62-and-80 percent.

Using criteria such as compactness, communities of interest and competitiveness, the new map is worse than all 53 submitted by citizens in a competition sponsored by the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting. The top 10 citizen plans had scores ranging from 193 to 222, compared to just 53 for the new map.