Local politics: The art of gerrymandering

Michael Curtin

Not one of Ohio's 16 congressional districts is competitive.

The districts are among the most blatantly gerrymandered in the nation, the most misshapen in Ohio's history. They are designed to prevent competition in November elections, providing Republicans with 12 super-safe districts and leaving four for Democrats.

The accompanying map vividly illustrates the Rorschach-test nature of the districts.

Rep. Pat Tiberi's 12th District veers crazily from Mansfield southwestwardly to Franklin County's northern suburbs, then southeastwardly to Zanesville and beyond.

Rep. Steve Stivers' 15th District swerves wildly through 12 counties, from Upper Arlington southwestwardly to Blanchester, then eastwardly across southern Ohio all the way to Athens and McConnelsville.

Rep. Joyce Beatty's 3rd District is sketched in barbell-like fashion, splitting Gahanna, Grandview Heights, Worthington and other cities within Franklin County.

Rather than striving to keep counties and neighborhoods intact, the map splits county boundaries 54 times. Seven counties are carved up among three or more districts.

The districts were drawn in 2011 to be in place for all congressional elections from 2012 through 2020. Under the U.S. Constitution, districts must be redrawn every 10 years following the federal census.

The art of gerrymandering is to pack as many of the minority party's voters as possible into as few districts as possible, leaving the majority party with the lion's share of districts. The U.S. Supreme Court has labeled the process corrupt, but legal.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy has lamented: “It is unfortunate that when it comes to apportionment, we are in the business of rigging elections.”

Fortunately, Gov. John R. Kasich is challenging his fellow Republicans at the Statehouse to respect voters and their communities, and pass legislation to end gerrymandering in Ohio, following the lead of several other reform-minded states.

Kasich's recent predecessors — Democrat Ted Strickland and Republicans Bob Taft and (the late) George Voinovich — also called for reform. So has Ohio's chief elections officer: Secretary of State Jon Husted. Unfortunately, the silence of Ohio's 16 congressional representatives has been deafening.

An ideal map would split as few counties, cities and townships as possible, creating districts that are geographically compact and nearly equal in population. Such districts would be more politically balanced and would encourage bipartisanship, an almost extinct trait in Congress.

The template for reform already exists — the plan approved by nearly 72 percent of Ohio voters in November 2015 for state legislative districts. That plan takes effect in 2022.

Ohio's two state legislative leaders — Senate President Larry Obhof and House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger — so far have shown scant interest in embracing reform, reflecting the wishes of their congressional friends.

That is why several good-government groups, including the League of Women Voters of Ohio, are preparing an initiative petition campaign to bypass the legislature and take a reform plan directly to the 2018 ballot. To learn more about this effort, visit

Curtin, a formerDispatchreporter and editor, recently finished a four-year tenure in the Ohio House of Representatives.