Ian Yarber, a former Oberlin school board member, considers himself a knowledgeable voter. He lives at the northeast end of Ohio’s 4th Congressional District, which stretches south and west nearly to the Indiana border. But when it comes to how it or any of Ohio’s 16 districts were drawn, he hasn’t a clue. “I don’t really know as to the rhyme or reason for the setting up the district,” Yarber says. “I’d be interested to know.” Every 10 years, after each U.S. Census, the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are re-distributed based on population. Then, the states get to work drawing a new map of their Congressional districts. In Ohio, those boundaries are set by the state legislature. Over the past five decades, Ohio’s Congressional districts have become increasingly “safe” for incumbents – because they’re strategically drawn for maximum political gain.
In 2011, as in 2001 and 1991, Ohio’s legislature was controlled by Republicans. “It would be hard for the process to get any worse than it is right now in Ohio,” says Rep. Kathleen Clyde.
A Democrat from Kent, Clyde has been in the Statehouse since 2011, when she was on the Congressional redistricting panel that drew the maps. But that doesn’t mean she had much input.
“The Republicans drew the maps in secret in a bunker in the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Columbus,” Clyde says. “There was no input from the public. There was no transparency. And it was just as partisan a process as you can imagine.”