For Americans who want to fight the mapmaker’s tyranny over politics, the U.S. Supreme Court has delivered the classic losers’ consolation: Wait ’til next year. Or the next. Or forever. The court passed up two chances at the end of its term to declare extreme partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional, sending cases from Wisconsin and Maryland back to lower courts. Then, the justices ducked again, remanding a North Carolina gerrymandering case—and making it less likely they’ll confront partisan district-drawing in their next term. Then Justice Anthony Kennedy retired, depriving gerrymandering’s opponents of a potential fifth vote, without resolving Kennedy’s long search for a legal standard on the practice. It’s a clear message to Americans who are sick of how gerrymandering lets politicians pick their voters, creates grotesquely-shaped one-party districts and encourages the partisan divide. With three years to go before the entire nation redistricts after the next census, if gerrymandering’s opponents want better, fairer maps, they’ll have to demand them, state by state. Ohio just showed how it can be done.
On May 8, Ohioans voted overwhelmingly for a bipartisan plan, conceived by a GOP-controlled Legislature, that will give the minority party much more say in the drawing of congressional maps starting with the 2021 redistricting. Ohio, a key swing state, is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation. Yet it came up with a solution, which hasn’t gotten a lot of attention nationally, that could result in fairer maps and more competitive elections for Congress starting in 2022. Ohioans think their reform could be a model for how states can fix gerrymandering on their own, without waiting for the Supreme Court.
“It’s very clear the courts are taking their time to determine that gerrymandering is unconstitutional,” says Catherine Turcer, executive director for Common Cause Ohio, which backed the new law. “We have a very good understanding of the manipulation of district lines. There are very real consequences to rigging elections.”
The anti-gerrymandering movement is growing. “In Ohio and other states, we’ve looked at ways to move the state Legislature to action,” says Turcer. “When we couldn’t, we started collecting signatures for a citizens’ initiative.”