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Ohio Democrats Move to Block Republican Congressional Gerrymander

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Cincinnati.com reports that Friday evening, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that Democrats can proceed with a petition gathering drive to place a referendum on the November 2012 ballot that would overturn the state's Republican congressional gerrymander. (The Court is composed of 6 Republicans and 1 Democrat.) If the petition drive is successful, it would be up to a court to decide if the state government's adopted Republican gerrymander will be used for the 2012 congressional elections.

Ohio Democratic Party actions have important consequences for the battle to control the House of Representatives in 2012. Working with Draw the Line Ohio, I enabled an analysis of the partisan consequences of the Republican map indicating that Republicans would be favored to win in 12 of the 16 congressional districts. The Ohio Republican gerrymander is of similar caliber to those adopted by Republicans who control the redistricting process in other key states by virtue of their 2010 victories in state government elections. For the most part, these Republican gerrymanders seek to lock in Republican gains in the 2012 election. Blocking the Ohio Republican gerrymander will move the needle in the Democratic direction for control of the House of Representatives, perhaps by as much as four seats if a court institutes a fair map.

Here is how the situation will likely play out. Republicans can negotiate with Democrats over the map as Democrats gather their signatures. If they decide not to and Democrats gather enough signatures to place the referendum on the ballot, a court will decide which districts the congressional elections will be held under. The Republican redistricting law cannot automatically take effect since that law's legality is being challenged at the voting booth, a tactic Democrats are also using to block a change in Ohio's early voting law. The court could order elections proceed using the Republican gerrymander or it may very well enact one drawn by a court-appointed special master. Perhaps the special master will consider incorporating elements from one of the 53 plans submitted to the Ohio Redistricting Competition -- all of which scored better on compactness, minimizing county splits, partisan fairness, and district competition than the Republican gerrymander.

What started out as a promising round of redistricting for the Republicans to shore up their vulnerable incumbents through gerrymandering may turn ultimately turn out to be a disappointment. Republicans are complaining about maps put forth by the Arizona and California citizen redistricting commissions. Court action -- either potential or underway -- in Colorado, Florida, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia may cost the Republicans seats in places they thought they would protect their own or expand their congressional majority. There are still a lot of uncertainty, so while Democrats may not by uncorking the champagne, they have at least a little to be cheered about from what initially looked to be a dismal round of redistricting from their standpoint.

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