A brief history of Ohio gerrymandering

Updated Aug 27, 2016
  • By Thomas Suddes

Republicans drew Ohio’s congressional districts and General Assembly (state legislature) districts to favor the GOP. That incontestable fact sometimes spurs a Republican or two to claim that two wrongs make a right: Didn’t the late Vernal G. Riffe Jr., a Democrat who was Ohio House speaker from 1975 through 1994, do the same for Democrats? What about him, huh?

Actually, since at least 1971, Statehouse Democrats, with or without Vern Riffe, have never been able to draw Ohio’s congressional districts all by themselves. The one time they tried, in 1975, during the Statehouse’s so-called Six-Day War, Ohio’s Supreme Court got in the way.

The 1971 congressional “redistricting” was fashioned by a Republican-run Ohio House, GOP-run state Senate, and Democratic Gov. John J. Gilligan. Each unit of that trio had to sign off. In 1982 and 1992, Riffe’s Democratic House, a Republican state Senate and a GOP governor (James A. Rhodes in ‘82, George V. Voinovich in ‘92) drew each decade’s congressional districts.

One way to measure the 1982 map Riffe helped draw is to look at Ohio congressional elections held alongside 1984’s Reagan-Mondale presidential election. Presidential elections draw more turnout than non-presidential elections, so they help measure a party’s strength.

In Reagan-Mondale joust, a huge win for Reagan, Ohio Republicans running for U.S. House seats drew a statewide total of 50.3 percent of the votes Ohioans cast for all that year’s Republican and Democratic congressional candidates. Result: Ohio sent 11 Democrats to the U.S. House, 10 Republicans: Not 50-50, but pretty close.

As to the 1991 map Riffe helped draw, at the 1996 Clinton the First 1 vs. Dole presidential election, Ohio Republicans running for U.S. House seats drew a statewide total of 51.9 percent of the votes Ohioans cast for all that year’s Republican and Democratic congressional candidates. And Ohio sent 11 Republicans and eight Democrats to the U.S. House. Advantage, GOP.

Now look at Ohio’s congressional districts the legislature drew in 2002 and 2011. Both times (as now), the GOP ran Ohio’s House and Senate, and a Republican was governor (Bob Taft in ‘02, John R. Kasich in ‘11).

In the Bush 43 vs. Kerry election of 2004, Ohio Republicans running for U.S. House seats drew 51.3 percent of the votes Ohioans cast for all that year’s Republican and Democratic congressional candidates. And Ohio sent 12 Republicans and six Democrats to the U.S. House. That’s a delegation that’s 66 percent Republican.

Ohio’s current congressional districts (which then-U.S. House Speaker John A. Boehner, a suburban Cincinnati Republican, ordered like take-out from the Statehouse) were drawn in 2011 by a Republican-run Ohio House, a Republican-run state Senate and Republican Kasich.

And at 2012’s Obama-Romney election, while Ohio Republican candidates drew 52.1 percent of the votes Ohioans cast for all that year’s Republican and Democratic congressional candidates, Ohio sent 12 Republicans and four Democrats to the U.S. House – a delegation that was (and is) 75 percent Republican.

Ah, then comes the last-ditch argument: Riffe and his Democrats rigged Ohio House and Senate seats by ruling the Apportionment Board in 1971 and 1981. It draws the legislature’s districts. Republicans have run have run the board since 1990. But of the House’s 99 seats, the most Riffe’s Democrats ever won was 62. And Republicans ran the Senate for 12 years of Riffe’s 20-year speakership.

Today, Republicans, led by Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, of Clinton County’s Clarksville, hold 65 of the 99 House seats. That’s why, if Rand McNally ever needs any help drawing maps, the company’s recruiters should interview Ohio Statehouse Republicans. That’s where the talent is.