Ohio’s Gerrymandered Map Withstood a Blue Wave Exactly as Planned
Despite being swept in the statewide races in Ohio, Democrats nearly matched Republican votes in state legislative races but will remain in a deep minority in both houses. According to The Plain Dealer, the GOP won 73 of the 116 statehouse races, 64 percent, despite winning just 50 percent of the popular vote. These victories will guarantee they retain supermajorities in both houses and will be able to effectively shut Democrats out of the state government.
This disparity between the popular vote and seats highlights how well Republicans were able to gerrymander legislative seats after the 2010 election using sophisticated software and voter files. This software, dubbed REDMAP, was deployed in the mapmaking process in states dominated by Republicans following the 2010 election, including Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
Gerrymandering follows some pretty simple rules. The two main techniques are “packing” and “cracking.” Packing involves jamming as many of your opponents’ supporters as possible into throwaway districts. Cracking involves drawing boundary lines through communities of interest and opposition groups, thereby diluting their vote to effectuate narrow wins. Techniques like these can be used to create durable districts that can withstand wave elections. The Washington Post has a good explainer on this process and created a compelling graphic to demonstrate its anti-democratic effects.
In the 2018 election, the districts worked exactly as planned in Ohio. According to Cleveland.com and unofficial results, Republicans received 50.3 percent of the votes statewide in the 116 races – 3,165,811 to 3,098,015 over the Democrats. Another 26,432 votes went to other candidates.
Half of Ohio’s Senate seats were on the ballot. Republicans won 65 percent of the seats (11 of 17) with just 48 percent of the statewide vote.
All 99 Ohio House seats are on the ballot every two years. In Ohio House races, the Republicans won 63 percent of the seats (62 of 99) with 52 percent of the vote.
These results are enough to give Republicans a supermajority in the House and Senate, despite Democrats picking up a few seats. Even if Richard Cordray had beaten Mike DeWine in the race for Governor, he would have had no say in the next round of mapmaking.
Gerrymandering is a nefarious political tool that undermines people’s faith in democracy and their elected officials by diluting their vote. It also is not just a tool of the Republicans, as both parties have engaged in these tactics for decades. But with the advent of sophisticated computerized software, gerrymandering is becoming much more precise and durable in its effects. As both parties race for control, the technological arms race has begun.
You can read the first piece in our redistricting series here.
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