No More Gerrymanders: Ohio's GOP-centric Plan versus the FairVote Super District Alternative

by Lindsey Needham, Sheahan Virgin, Fair Voting Plans // Published October 13, 2011
Ohio

Snapshot:

  • Lawmakers in Ohio have recently passed a congressional redistricting plan as required by the U.S. Constitution.
  • The root of the worst problems associated with redistricting lies with winner-take-all elections, in which 50% + 1 of the vote guarantees 100% of the representation.
  • As part of an ongoing series, FairVote has produced a "super-district" plan designed for elections with a fair voting system. Fair voting systems are a constitutionally permissible form of proportional representation and, by allowing voters to participate in a meaningful election, are a far better way to achieve public interest objectives than winner-take-all elections.
  • FairVote's fair voting plan for Ohio would result in more balanced representation and competitive evaluation.


The Political Context in Ohio

Ohio and the 2010 Census: From 2000 to 2010, Ohio's population grew slightly, from 11.35 million to 11.54 million, for an increase of 1.6%, as compared to a rate of 4.7% from 1990 to 2000. This rate was significantly below the national average of 9.7%. As a result, Ohio was one of only two states to lose more than one U.S. House seat in reapportionment, going from 18 seats to 16. This continued a skid dating back to the 1960 Census.

Internally, population shifts appear to have helped congressional Republicans, as residents have moved away from the Democratic-heavy urban districts. Of the state's five largest cities - Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, and Akron - only Columbus posted growth. Racially, Ohio remains predominantly white (81.1%), with a slight percentage increase of black (12.0%) and Latino communities (3.1%).

Redistricting in 2001 was highly partisan, as Republicans crafted a map that disproportionally aided their party. Ohio Republicans have consistently won more seats than their share of the vote total, and Ohio democrats have consistently won fewer seats. In the 2010 elections, for instance, Republicans recieved 53.7% of the vote but won 72.2% of seats, while Democrats recieved 42.1% of the vote but only 27.8% of seats. Redistricting also protected the vast majority of incumbents. In the five congressional elections since 2001, 74 of the 80 incumbents (92.5%) won; 56 of the 74 (75.7%) victorious incumbents prevailed in blowouts (20%+ margin of victory) or uncontested races.

Republicans, in Control, Push through Partisan Redistricting PlanDemocrats have had recent statewide success in Ohio, including a win for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race and for Ted Strickland, who voters elected governor in 2006. Many Democratic gains, however, were undone in 2010, which The New York Times called "one of the most painful outcomes of the election" for the President and his party. (http://www.elections.nytimes.com/2010/results/ohio). Chief among the party's casualties was Strickland, who lost to former Republican Congressman John Kasich by two percentage points. Rob Portman, a former representative and Bush Administration official, delivered to the GOP the open U.S. Senate seat of retiring Republican George Voinovich, besting Democratic Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher in a landslide. Republicans also won the battle for control over the state's U.S. House delegation, knocking off five Democratic incumbents to reverse a pre-election 10-8 Democratic majority into a 13-5 Republican advantage. In many respects, Ohio was the 'poster child' for Republican gains across the nation, swings that, when taken together, propelled favorite son John Boehner (R, OH-8) to the U.S. House speakership. 

Having claimed the governorship and majorities in both chambers of the state legislature, Republicans ensured that they would exercise control over the drawing of district boundaries, lines capable of locking in a GOP advantage at the U.S. House level for a decade. Redistricting in 2011 marks just the second time in the last 60 years that one party has controlled all three parts in the process, the first having been 2001.

The Ohio General Assembly began work on congressional redistricting in mid-July and went public with their plan on Sept. 13. According to The Hill, close allies of John Boehner drew the congressional district map with regular input from the speaker. Perhaps hoping to deter a possible citizen referendum designed to block the map, Republican lawmakers added to the redistricting legislation a $2.75 million appropriations provision to help county election officials educate voters about the new districts. Under the Ohio Constitution, bills containing such spending authority are not subject to referenda. **Update

Ignoring Democratic protestations that the public did not have adequate time to review the proposed map, the Ohio Senate passed the plan on September 21, by a vote of 24-7, receiving concurrence from the House the same day, 60-35. Several Democratic black legislators, seeing an opportunity for greater representation, broke with the party line and voted for the new boundaries. Governor Kasich signed the bill into law on September 26. Democrats ripped the plan, with one state senator calling it "job security for a few at the expense of job opportunities for the many." Yet another Democratic lawmaker objected to a congressional map designed to benefit overwhelmingly one party in an evenly divided "50/50 state."

Partisan Effects of the GOP Redistricting Plan: Looking at the partisan implications of the map, Republicans have "packed" Democrats into four redrawn northern districts in order to create safe or lean-GOP districts in other parts of the state.

Under the plan, two Democratic incumbents, Marcy Kaptur, who is the most senior woman in the U.S. House, and progressive stalwart Dennis Kucinich, will likely face off in a primary in a district that snakes along the Lake Erie coastline from Toledo to Cleveland. Elsewhere, Betty Sutton, the Democratic base of whom has been apportioned into several districts, will now have to face off in a general election contest against Republican incumbent Jim Renacci, the marginal constituency of whom the plan has made increasingly conservative.

With Democratic lawmakers and voters packed into a handful of districts, many battleground constituencies have become significantly safer for GOP incumbents. In 2010, voters elected Republicans Steve Chabot, Steve Stivers, Pat Tiberi, and Bill Johnson with 51%, 54%, 56%, and 50%, respectively. Chabot, Stivers, and Tiberi have gone from representing districts carried by Barack Obama in 2008, to ones that are solidly red. Johnson, whose district narrowly voted for John McCain in 2008, will also get a safer seat. In perhaps the only setback for Republicans, mapmakers were unable to avoid combining the central Ohio districts of Steven Austria and Mike Turner into one new constituency; local analysts expect both to contest the prospective primary, which should be evenly matched.

 

FairVote's Super District Alternative

Time for an Honest, Proportional, and Fair System: These controversies demonstrate the way in which the current system is inadequate: it fails not only to represent accurately the people of Ohio, but it also reduces voters to mere pawns in a grand political game designed to benefit party elites rather than the people. Especially in states affected by reapportionment, there is the impulse to engage in gerrymandering and other highly undemocratic maneuvering.

In contrast to the Ohio state legislature's politically motivated plan, FairVote's alternative puts voters first. Rather than use a winner-take-all system, which accentuates the effects of redistricting and encourages partisan games, FairVote's plan combines these gerrymandered districts to form multi-member districts called "super-districts," in which a fair voting system can allow far more voters to elect a favorite candidate. As our analysis will demonstrate, FairVote's super-district plan with a fair voting system generates competitive elections in every single district; it also allows for fuller representation of the political and demographic dynamics of geographical areas: what we call "shared representation."

Under the current winner-take-all system, candidates must receive over 50% of the vote to be sure of winning a seat. Consequently, substantial voting blocs are often left unrepresented. For instance, one party's candidate could get just one vote shy of the 50% threshold, and all of her voters would lose out on representation. Similarly, if a voter lives in a district that widely favors one party, that voter might feel like his vote does not matter, especially if that voter favors the less popular party.

With fair voting in super-districts, on the other hand, nominees from more than one party are nearly certain to represent a district, which enables a more accurate representation of the broad spectrum of political opinion. These multi-seat districts also lower the threshold for racial minorities to select a preferred candidate of their own.

Our Ohio plan upholds U.S. Supreme Court rulings on apportionment while providing fair representation and voter choice for California voters. Fair voting plans in super-districts are legal for congressional elections under the U.S. Constitution, but Congress would need to repeal a 1967 law mandating single-member districts. State and city governments often have the power to adopt fair voting systems under current law.

Image: Ohio's new plan (left) and FairVote's super district alternative (right)


 

If FairVote were working from scratch, we could draw the super district lines with more geographical compactness. Because we created the super-districts from the recently approved congressional districts, however, our super-districts also appear gerrymandered. Even so, the super-district approach demonstrates that full representation can be attained even within these highly gerrymandered confines.


From the 16 congressional districts in Ohio, the FairVote proposal creates five multi-seat districts: one four-member district and four three-member districts. Each congressional seat still represents approximately 721,032 people, but using a proportional voting system such as choice voting, now representation is far more likely to reflect the political opinion and demographic makeup of the state. In the four-seat district, like-minded voters are assured of a representative if they consist of at least 20% of the electorate. For the three-seat districts, this threshold to pick up a seat rises slightly to 25%.


Super District Breakdown

Super District

Number of House Seats

Population Per Seat

Threshold of Exclusion

Districts Used to Make SD

1

4

721,032

20% + 1

     9, 11, 13, 14

2

3

721,032

25% + 1

     6, 7, 16

3

3

721,031

25% + 1

     4, 5, 12

4

3

721,032

25% + 1

     3, 10, 15

5

3

721,031

25% + 1

     1, 2, 8


Partisanship Analysis: Based on the 2008 presidential election, Ohio has a partisanship index of 51.3% Republican, a narrow margin reflecting its status as a swing state in presidential elections. However, the recent plan passed by the state legislature does not reflect the close partisan split of the entire state. Based on district partisanship, the Ohio plan would result in 12 Republican seats and just four Democratic seats, far off from the near 50/50 statewide split. In fact, most of the districts result in landslide victories for one party. Ten districts have a Republican partisanship greater than 56%, with the four Democratic safe seats packed in such a way that Democratic candidates can expect to win on average by margins greater than two-to-one. The lone competitive district has a district partisanship of 46.1%, which falls barely within our toss-up range of 46%-54% for open seat elections.

To put this in perspective, the statewide Democratic partisanship index of 48.7% should result in the Democratic party winning around seven seats and the Republican party winning around eight seats, while an additional seat would swing to the party or individual candidate performing well that election cycle. Yet, the Ohio plan guarantees the Republicans more than their expected share. To win seven seats, Democrats would need to succeed in flipping two Republican-leaning districts. This gerrymandered setup presetns a daunting challenge for the Democrats every election year, regardless of the party's national momentum.

Ohio Plan's Partisanship Breakdown

District

Population Per Seat

Partisanship (D) *

Safe Seats (D)

Leaning Seats (D)

Toss-Up

Leaning Seats (R)

Safe Seats (R)

1

721,031

43.8%

0

0

0

1

0

2

721,031

43.2%

0

0

0

1

0

3

721,032

66.2%

1

0

0

0

0

4

721,031

41.6%

0

0

0

0

1

5

721,031

43.4%

0

0

0

1

0

6

721,031

46.1%

0

0

1

0

0

7

721,032

43.9%

0

0

0

1

0

8

721,031

38.0%

0

0

0

0

1

9

721,032

62.3%

1

0

0

0

0

10

721,032

42.2%

0

0

0

1

0

11

721,032

79.7%

1

0

0

0

0

12

721,032

39.1%

0

0

0

0

1

13

721,031

62.3%

1

0

0

0

0

14

721,032

45.6%

0

0

0

1

0

15

721,031

42.5%

0

0

0

1

0

16

721,032

43.4%

0

0

0

1

0

Statewide

11,536,504

48.7%

4

0

1

8

3

* Partisanship percentages are based on an interpretation of the 2008 presidential election. Our source for the district election data; our source for statewide election data. The seats were allocated according to the following ranges: toss-up districts have a partisanship between 46% and 54%, leaning seats have a partisanship between 54% and 58%, and safe seats have a partisanship greater than 58%. This does not reflect incumbent advantages.


In stark contrast, the FairVote super-district plan accurately represents the state's partisan divide. FairVote's super-district plan shows that both major parties would be well positioned to win at least one seat in every super district. Republicans would have a clear advantage to win seven seats and be well positioned to add between one and three seats based on the quality of their candidates and the national partisan swing. Democrats would have a clear advantage to win six seats and a reasonable chance to add up to three more.

FairVote's plan clearly offers a far more reflective representation of the state's political division than the 75% of representation Republicans would earn even when losing the statewide vote. It also increases voter interest since almost all Republican and Democratic voters will be able to elect a candidate in their district who represents their political views - and have a real choice within their party's candidates as well.

Once in Congress, representatives from opposing parties would share constituents and have new incentives to cooperate on at least some legislative initiatives. As far as competition, the current Ohio plan offers at best one competitive district; in the super-district plan, every voter would experience a competitive election. Three of five super-districts would have a real chance to change partisan representation, and in all districts voters would have choices within their preferred party.

While these partisan breakdowns are based on the current two-party duopoly, the FairVote proposal would open the door for third-party and independent candidates, unlike the single-member district winner-take-all plan. Challengers to the major parties are rarely able to acquire over 50% of the vote, leaving those voters unrepresented. The multi-member setup of FairVote's super-districts lowers the threshold and provides third parties a better chance to win seats. The FairVote alternative is not just fair for Democrats and Republicans; it is fair for voters of all political opinions.

FairVote's Super District Partisan Breakdown

Super District

Number of Seats

Threshold of Exclusion

Partisanship (D)

Safe Seats (D)

Leaning Seats (D)

Toss-Up

Leaning Seats (R)

Safe Seats (R)

1

4

20%+ 1

62.5%

2

0

1

0

1

2

3

25% + 1

44.5%

1

0

0

1

1

3

3

25% + 1

41.4%

1

0

0

0

2

4

3

25% + 1

50.3%

1

0

1

0

1

5

3

25% + 1

41.6%

1

0

0

0

2

Totals

16

-

48.7%

6

0

2

1

7

 

Race and Voting Power: Under the Ohio plan, one district has a black population greater than 50%. Louis Stokes, the first African American to represent Ohio in the House of Representatives, came from this Cleveland district, and the district has continued to select African American leaders since his election in 1968, with Marcia Fudge currently holding the seat. The super-district plan combines this highly concentrated district with other predominantly white districts, but the total black citizen voting age population (CVAP) of the super-district exceeds the 20% threshold necessary to elect a candidate of choice.

Therefore, black voters in this super-district have the voting power to elect a preferred candidate, who best represents their interests. In addition, black voters are well-positioned to be influential in Districts 4 and 5, where their population is more than half of what it takes to be able to win a seat.

Ohio Plan Race Breakdown

District

Total Population

Black CVAP

Latino CVAP

1

721,031

20.87%

2.17%

2

721,031

8.88%

1.35%

3

721,032

28.69%

4.78%

4

721,031

5.67%

3.25%

5

721,031

3.66%

3.46%

6

721,031

2.50%

0.70%

7

721,032

4.32%

1.30%

8

721,031

10.28%

2.24%

9

721,032

14.54%

6.81%

10

721,032

11.25%

1.65%

11

721,032

52.37%

3.35%

12

721,032

6.12%

1.77%

13

721,031

10.97%

2.16%

14

721,032

3.88%

1.71%

15

721,031

4.78%

1.59%

16

721,032

1.91%

1.48%

Race data for each district provided by District Builder here.

 

FairVote's Super-District Race Breakdown

Super District

Number of Seats

Threshold of Exclusion

Black CVAP

Latino CVAP

1

4

20% + 1

20.4%

3.5%

2

3

25% + 1

2.9%

1.2%

3

3

25% + 1

5.2%

2.8%

4

3

25% + 1

14.9%

2.7%

5

3

25% + 1

13.3%

1.9%


Conclusion

Although Ohio Republicans clearly engineered a partisan gerrymander, electoral problems do not rest solely with Democrats and Republicans. Rather, the problem lies with the winner-take-all nature of single-member district elections, which allow district lines to determine most outcomes no matter how they are drawn. In this analysis, we have not touched the blatantly partisan lines that were our building block; we merely changed the rules and showed that multi-seat districts provide immediate dividends to all voters.

If the redistricting games of winner-take-all continue, voters are likely to become even more disenchanted with our political system. Under Ohio's redistricting plan and many others like it across the country, a vast amount of voters are left unrepresented. Many of these congressional elections lack competition or offer just two candidates to the diverse array of voters. It is also clear that one candidate cannot possibly reflect the makeup of his or her district, as winner-take-all assumes. Therefore, we need a new approach that will more accurately reflect the makeup of each state. By adopting fair voting in multi-seat super-districts, we can attain a more representative democracy.

######

**UPDATE:  On October 14, 2011, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the new congressional map signed into law by Governor Kasich is subject to voter referenda, dashing Republican hopes that the appropriation provision they had tacked to the legislation would proscribe such a challenge. Assuming the Democratic-led effort obtains enough signatures, the map would appear before voters on the November 2012 ballot, likely throwing congressional elections into chaos. Under this scenario, candidates would have to either run at-large in a state without districts or contest elections within permanent single-member constituencies crafted by a federal court. Democrats have until December 26 to gather enough signatures.

The Democratic power play places the Ohio map in legal limbo. Not wishing to take their chances in court, Republicans have begun to search for a solution to the political impasse. Most likely, the GOP will propose an alternative map that is slightly less ambitiously partisan. To avoid having the alternative plan be subject to another citizen referendum, Republicans would need seven Democrats in the state house to join the 59 member GOP majority to pass an emergency clause – Republicans already have the requisite two-thirds majority in the state senate to pass the emergency provision.