On September 26, Republican Governor John Kasich signed into law Ohio’s new congressional redistricting plan. The plan, released on September 13, passed the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate earlier in the week, but its ultimate approval will likely be in the hands of voters through a proposed ballot referendum in November 2012. Overall, the plan secures the Republicans’ gains in the 2010 election, with very few districts being competitive.
Ohio lost two congressional seats in the reapportionment process, guaranteeing that incumbents would see significant shifts in their constituencies and that some districts would be combined or eliminated. The ideal population for 2011 districts is 721,032, which is larger than the population of every 2001 district in the state but one. Essentially, almost every surviving 2001 district needed to add additional geographical territory to achieve population equality.
The map eliminates three districts—one Republican and two Democrat—and adds one new district with no incumbent, although that district will very likely elect a Democratic representative in 2012. Overall, the new ratio of Republicans to Democrats will likely be 12-4 as opposed to the current ratio of 13-5.
In the Southwest, Republican Representative Mike Turner’s district has been parceled out to Jean Schmidt (R), Steve Chabot (R), and the new 15th district. The plan places Turner in the same district as Steve Austria (R), although Austria is definitely favored since he represented all his new constituents previously, with the exception of Montgomery County. On the other hand, Turner’s constituency is almost entirely new.
In the north-central region of the state, the plan pits Representative Marcy Kaptur (D) against Representative Dennis Kucinich (D). Kaptur, the longest serving member of the House of Representatives, retains her constituency of the coastal communities on Lake Erie. Kucinich, on the other hand, must focus on catering to the substantial number of new voters to the West that have been added to his district. This election will likely favor Kaptur as she is a well-known veteran and liked by her core group of constituents in the coastal communities.
The plan also places Representatives Betty Sutton, a Democrat from Akron, and Jim Renacci (R) in the same district. Renacci has the edge over Sutton, as he retains his substantial voter base in Wayne and Stark counties, but this is probably the most competitive of the sixteen districts.
The upshot to combining a third pair of incumbents is that it creates a district with no incumbent in central Ohio, the 15th district. Stretching over 800 miles and including parts of thirteen counties, this new concavely-shaped district leans to the left and is more likely to elect a Democratic representative in 2012.
Some districts were relatively unchanged by the new plan. Boehner’s district on the western side of Ohio is comparable to his 2001 district. Similarly, Pat Tiberi’s (R) district is not particularly affected. Representative Marcia Fudge’s (D) majority black Voting Rights Act district did not change beyond what was necessary for population equality.
Although the plan technically became law last month, Ohio’s redistricting process is far from over. On September 28, Democrats filed a lawsuit for the right to put the plan up to a popular vote through a ballot referendum. In order to preempt such a referendum, Republicans had attached $2.75 million to the bill for its implementation—according to the Ohio State Constitution, legislation with monetary appropriations is not reviewable through a ballot referendum.
On October 14, the Republican-dominated Ohio Supreme Court unanimously held that the people of Ohio have the right to review the redistricting plan through a ballot referendum. Assuming there are sufficient signatures to generate the referendum, the current plan will be shelved until November 2012 when voters will have the chance to approve or deny it.
Overall, the Rose Institute’s forecast from last year of Ohio’s redistricting process fared well. As predicted, Ohio lost two congressional seats in reapportionment. The Rose Institute estimated that the ideal population for each of the sixteen districts would be 721,415, just 383 persons off from the actual ideal population of 721,032. Furthermore, the Rose correctly predicted that Congresswoman Marcia Fudge’s Voting Rights Act district would change geographically to add population but that demographically it would remain a majority-minority district. On the other hand, the Rose Institute predicted that, if Republicans controlled the redistricting process, the two seats eliminated would both be Democratic. This almost definitely will not be the case, as both parties, in all probability, will lose one seat each. For the Rose Institute’s complete 2010 report on Ohio redistricting, please visit: http://rosereport.org/blog/entry/ohio-redistricting-the-complete-series-1