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Gerrymandering is Voter Suppression


By Bruce Checefsky

Gerrymandering is defined as manipulating the boundaries of an electoral district so as to create an advantage for a party, group, or class.

Earlier this year, the Ohio Supreme Court, which is the highest judicial court in the state with final authority over interpretations of Ohio law and has a current makeup of four Republicans and three Democrats, invalidated legislative district maps and sent the Ohio Redistricting Commission back for revision. It rejected the fourth plan of the state redistricting commission as unconstitutional gerrymandering that unfairly favored Republicans.

The redistricting commission resubmitted its third plan, which had been thrown out by the court, rather than creating a new one. Republicans filed to get a federal court involved in the process, and a panel of three federal judges threatened to step in and force the state of Ohio to implement a new redistricting plan.

U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amul R. Thapar and U.S. Western District of Kentucky Judge Benjamin J. Beaton, both appointed by former President Donald Trump, voted to use the third set of maps giving Republicans the green light to move forward in a 2-1 decision. The decision disregarded what the Ohio Supreme Court said was unconstitutional. Secretary of State Frank LaRose ordered a special election on August 2 to implement Map 3. It will serve as an election for state representatives, senators, and the state central committee, and is the first election affected by the redistricting following the 2020 census.

In July 2015, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the legislature had carried out a blatantly unconstitutional gerrymander and ordered redrawing of eight congressional districts and all 40 state senate districts, according to Reclaim The American Dream, a non-partisan, non-profit, informational website. When the legislature had trouble coming up with revised maps, lower courts stepped in to supervise the redrawing of election districts to make elections more competitive and give voters more choice. The new, court-ordered maps went into play for the first time in 2016 and produced notable upsets in both parties, with political newcomers ousting long-serving incumbents.

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) provides several solutions to gerrymandering, including tools to identify gerrymandered maps with free online tools to upload proposed redistricting maps to determine whether they are fair or gerrymandered. DavesRedistricting.org  , CampaignLegalCenter.org and PlanScore.org empower advocates, journalists, policymakers and the public to assess and score maps, to establish Independent Redistricting Commissions (IRC) to create fair maps and to limit the power of self-interested politicians in the mapmaking process. They also advocate for the passage of federal legislation to ban gerrymandering. Congress should pass the Freedom to Vote Act which would open new judicial avenues to challenge maps that unfairly advantage one party.

States could give the responsibility for drawing voting districts over to independent commissions.

State legislatures have the authority to draw political districts. They could hand that responsibility to another party or organization. A few state legislatures have allowed an independent commission to draw political boundaries. The results have been more sensible maps.

Ohio may need to look for other ways to redistrict to avoid a recurrence of the latest situation.