Ohio’s gerrymandered maps “diminishing the voting power of Black voters,” groups say • Ohio Capital Journal

Ohio’s gerrymandered maps take voting power away from Black communities, fair map advocates said this week on a media call. 

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s law school found that about 77% of Ohio (about 9.1 million people) lives in “districts where elections for state representatives are not in serious dispute,” according to their recent study.

“This report validates what happens when the redistricting process and those in charge of it draw districts that all but guarantee the outcome of state legislative races, often at the expense of diminishing the voting power of Black voters in the state,” said Petee Talley, executive director and founder of Ohio Unity Coalition.

Ohio’s gerrymandered districts make it hard for voters of color to have their voice be heard through their vote, Talley said.

“We felt the gridlock on election outcomes in Black communities where we struggled to be able to choose who gets to represent us,” said Jeniece Brock, policy and advocacy director for the Ohio Organizing Collaborative. “Historically, our communities have been cracked and packed into districts that don’t allow us to meaningfully engage in political processes, or have healthy competition between candidates for representation in the Statehouse.”

The president of the Ohio Conference of the NAACP, Tom Roberts, questioned if the decisions being made in the Statehouse such as private school vouchers and fracking state parks truly reflect what citizens want.

“Citizens are just scratching their heads, saying, ‘Who’s making these decisions, and why are they making these decisions?’ And the answer is because there’s no one there to stop them,” he said.

November election 

Looking ahead to the November election, 15 districts out of 99 total will give voters no choice between Democratic and Republican candidates in the November election, according to the study. 

Sixty-two districts will be uncompetitive, meaning districts where the partisan draw favors one party by 55% or more. 

This leaves the majority of Ohioans in districts where election outcomes are decided before the first vote was cast, Brock said.

Seeing the results of the study was frustrating, but it also highlighted to her the importance of having fair maps.

“That’s something that we’re going to continue to fight for and make sure people feel represented and that they have folks who will listen to the the needs of their community, whether it be safe neighborhoods, fresh water, clean air, or better health care,” she said.

Citizens Not Politicians Initiative

The Citizens Not Politicians proposed constitutional amendment would make a 15-member citizen redistricting commission made up of five Republicans, five Democrats and five independents. No current or former politicians would be able to be on the commission. 

“A different commission composition could provide a change that will provide racial diversity on the commission that will be sensitive to the issues of the diverse communities in our state and draw district maps that center community needs and voter preferences rather than the interests of incumbents,” Talley said.

Brock thinks the citizen initiative would be a transparent and inclusive process.

“With citizens running the process, there is no pressure from any party to be able to have things a certain way, that they get to have their voices heard from the community and be able to create maps that are fair and representative,” she said.

Supporters of the Citizens Not Politicians Initiative must collect 413,487 valid state voter signatures by July 3.