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· November 9, 2012

GOP in Ohio: Good at the game – or just making their own rules?

What distinguishes Issue 2 from the many other winners and losers in this week’s election is that opponents and supporters of the measure both agreed that the central idea – redistricting reform – was an important and necessary improvement for Ohio’s political future. Voters First, the coalition that supported the issue, said “[o]pponents to Issue 2 picked apart our proposal … no one defended the current system.” The Ohio State Bar Association, which ran ads against Issue 2, said “the current redistricting process is in need of reform.” Even Gov. John Kasich concurred that reforms were necessary to “ensure that districts are competitive and fair and Ohioans’ interests are fully represented.” While both sides seem to be aware of the many problems caused by the status quo, reactions to the election have revealed another danger inherent in having a gerrymandered legislative district map: the danger that political parties may actually end up believing (or just acting like) they have won a mandate to govern, when all they have really done is won the districts they designed to be easy victories for themselves Just like their counterparts at the national level, Ohio’s GOP leaders have managed (either genuinely or just to save face) to construe the results of this past election as a mandate to continue the march to extremism. Scott Millburn, described as “a long-time, close Kasich aide and chief spokesman” told the Cincinnati Enquirer on Nov. 7, “The progress that jobs-friendly policies are producing for this state is why Ohioans returned Republican majorities to the Senate and House.” Not so fast. What immediately raises questions about Millburn’s assertion is the fact that, as the Join the Future blog pointed out already, Democratic candidates for the Ohio House of Representatives actually received more votes than Republican candidates – almost 60,000 more. That’s right – the Dems actually won the statewide vote count for the Ohio house, yet Republicans ended up with many more seats. Why? Because Republicans drew the map. Democratic Ohio House candidates received about 50.3% of all votes cast in Ohio House races this election, while Republican candidates received about 49.1%. Thanks to an extremely well-executed gerrymander on the part of Republicans, their candidates will hold 60% of the seats in the 130th General Assembly, while Democrats will hold 40%. In other words Democrats won 1.2% more votes, and got 20% fewer seats. Voilà: gerrymandering! (Note: current unofficial vote counts show Democrats holding 39 seats, though that number may increase slightly as several races have more outstanding provisional and absentee ballots than the current margin of victory. Nevertheless, the percentages in this post will change only slightly.) While the Ohio House of Representatives races are the most compelling case-in-point for why redistricting reform remains an extremely compelling need, the argument can also be illustrated through an analysis of votes cast in Ohio congressional races. In that case, Republicans candidates for U.S. House of Representatives won more votes overall than Democratic candidates, but the number of seats they were able to capture is way out of proportion to their margin of victory in the statewide vote. Adding up the votes cast in all 16 Ohio congressional districts, Republican candidates won about 56% of the vote, while Democratic candidates won about 42% (the other two percent went to third-party and write-in candidates). So with 14% more votes than Democrats, Republicans will control – wait for it – three times as many seats as Democrats in Ohio’s delegation to the 113th Congress. So the next time you hear state or national legislators claiming that they won a mandate from voters based on the fact that they preserved their majorities, remember this: winning a game where you make the rules does not mean you’re good at the game. In the meantime, given the support that politicians from both parties gave to at least the idea of redistricting reform leading up to this election, Ohioans have a right to expect that this important issue be revisited in the near future. (Note: All figures in this post are based on unofficial vote totals published on the Ohio Secretary of State’s website on November 8 and 9. Some election outcomes and vote counts will change as final results are certified.)  

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