Voices & Choices

Ohio redistricting deadline nears – also, just what is Justice Alito thinking about Pennsylvania?

Ohio redistricting deadline nears – also, just what is Justice Alito thinking about Pennsylvania?

One of the most contentious redistricting battles is underway right now in Ohio.

An effective 2011 GOP gerrymander in this longtime bellwether created 12 solid Republican districts and left Democrats with just four seats. Republicans also drew themselves a 2-to-1 edge in the state house.

A strong reform movement in the state led by Fair Districts = Fair Elections have been pushing hard to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot this year that would create a fairer process. Legislative leaders, looking to head that off by offering reforms of their own, have been negotiating with the good-government groups.

And while it looked this week as though the talks would end with no compromise, the two sides are still talking.

Republicans say that they have made major concessions. But as the Cleveland Plain Dealer notes:

But the proposed changes still would allow the majority party to draw gerrymandered maps without a single vote from a lawmaker from the minority party and split Cuyahoga County and a handful of others into as many as three congressional districts.

Two big gaps between the sides are the idea of “representational fairness” – or having some way to ensure that, as now, that just 50 percent of the vote does not lead to 75 percent of the seats. Also, there are differences over how many times counties should be able to be divided between multiple districts.

One way or another, a resolution is near: If a compromise deal with lawmakers is to hit the May primary ballot, it must be passed by the legislature by Feb. 7.


In Slate, the terrific Mark David Stern explores what might happen if the U.S. Supreme Court halts a Pennsylvania state supreme court’s order to draw new congressional maps there for the 2018 election.

It would be deeply surprising if the U.S. Supreme Court did involve itself in this case. After all, the Pennsylvania judges, of course, based their ruling on the Pennsylvania constitution, and federal courts tend to stay out of such decisions for good reason.

But state Republicans turned to Justice Alito for a stay, and while it’s a Hail Mary on their part, Alito, as Stern notes, did not simply dismiss that request immediately. He asked, instead, that the good-government groups behind the suit respond.

While Stern finds it unlikely that the Supreme Court will side with the Republicans here, he is alarmed by what might be the consequences if the Court does act:.

As he writes:

Pennsylvania Republicans’ argument plainly draws from Bush v. Gore to question the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ability to supervise congressional elections. It’s a frightening theory that could, taken to its logical endpoint, forbid every state’s highest court from safeguarding the right to cast an effective ballot. Alito should have dismissed it immediately. His willingness to entertain this appeal instead bodes poorly for both democracy and federalism. The U.S. Supreme Court has no business forcing Pennsylvania voters to languish under a gerrymander that can’t pass muster under Pennsylvania law.

In the New York Times, Michael Wines gets partisan mapmakers to explain just how they use sophisticated computer software to draw durable partisan gerrymanders.

The entire piece is worth reading, but the highlight is this from Oklahoma professor Keith Gaddie, a key figure who helped consult on the Wisconsin assembly maps at the heart of Gill v Whitford.

Gaddie tells the paper that the Republicans “paying the bills” changed between the 2001 and 2011 cycles. “I liked working for them in ’02,” he said, “because I’d sit down with a lawyer and they’d say, ‘I like competitive maps. When a map is competitive, we can win on the merits.’ By the time I get around to 2011, they’ve changed. I can’t defend this crap.”


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