Redistricting: What’s the Big Deal?
by Joel Gorski
(Plain Press, September 2021) Monday morning, August 23, Cleveland State University’s student center ballroom was filled with a standing-room-only crowd estimated at 200 people. Many were preparing comments and questions for Ohio’s very first Redistricting Commission as they waited. Most, if not all, of the attendees at this first public redistricting hearing were there to assure that the boundaries for Ohio’s many political districts would be drawn fairly.
This hearing was the first step in implementing a new, fairer redistricting process. In 2015 and 2018 Ohio voters approved two separate referendums to create a set of sensible rules and procedures for redistricting Ohio’s state and congressional district maps. Many attendees demonstrated their commitment to this issue by navigating bumper-to-bumper traffic and hunting for parking spots at CSU on this crowded and chaotic first day of the fall semester.
In addition to terrible traffic and scarce parking – more than enough to deter attendees — the Ohio Redistricting Commission had announced the hearing only nine days prior, leaving attendees little time to juggle their schedules and prepare. In addition to the citizens who attended the hearing to listen or comment, others had come to deliver formal testimony to the committee about the importance of fair districting submitting both written and oral testimony. Cleveland’s hearing was the first of 10 public hearings held at locations throughout the state.
What is redistricting, and
why is it so important?
It can seem complicated at first, but it is easy to understand. Redistricting means dividing the state into units of geography called districts. This is accomplished by deciding what are the district boundaries and then drawing those boundaries on the Ohio map. Drawing maps is a detailed process but it is secondary to the task of deciding exactly where the boundaries should lie. It is in the decision-making step that unfairness can occur – intentionally or unintentionally.
Each district has its own representative who is elected by voters in that district. There are two types of districts: state districts and federal districts. Voters in state districts elect representatives to serve in the Ohio government. Voters in congressional districts elect a representative called a congressman to serve in the house of representatives, part of the federal government. Regardless of the type of district, state or federal, the elected representative is responsible to the people who live in her/his district.
Ohio currently has 16 federal congressional districts. Ohio, like all states, elects two and only two senators to the United States Senate as required by the U.S. constitution. States with very small populations have two senators as do very large states. Since each senator is elected by voters in the entire state, there is no need to divide the state into federal senate districts.
The situation is a little different when it comes to state districts. Ohio has two types of state districts: Ohio senate districts and Ohio house districts. The Ohio constitution says that the state must have 33 state senate districts and 99 state house districts.
So, at redistricting time, maps for three types of districts must be drawn: Ohio house districts, Ohio senate districts, and United States Congressional districts.
Why do we need redistricting?
Where the redistricting of congressional districts is concerned, Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. constitution requires that every 10 years the federal government conduct a census – a count – of everyone living in the United States. The same article also states that “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers….”
A census is a massive undertaking. Once the census is complete, the population of each state becomes known. The federal government must use these state population counts to determine the number of seats each state should have in the U.S. house of representatives. Assigning house seats to states based upon population is called “apportionment.”
The number of house seats is fixed at 435 and the population of each district must be the same as that of the other districts. This means that states with larger populations are apportioned more seats while states with smaller populations are apportioned less. Each congressional district elects one congressman to occupy a seat. The more seats apportioned to a state, the more power that state has in the house. Since decisions are made in the house by voting, the more seats a state occupies, the more votes it has.
America’s most recent census was in 2020. During the 10 years between the 2010 and the 2020 censuses, most states gained population while West Virginia, Mississippi, and Illinois lost population. Some states like Ohio gained population but compared with rapidly growing states like Texas and Florida we did not gain as much. What is important a state’s population relative to that of other states. Based upon the 2010 census, Ohio was apportioned 16 congressional seats but based upon the 2020 census Ohio will lose one seat and drop down to only 15. Ohio will begin using these 15 newly drawn congressional districts for the 2022 election cycle.