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Gerrymandering suffers a setback in a key battleground state

Voting stickers are seen at the Ohio Union during the U.S. presidential election at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio November 6, 2012.
Voting stickers are seen at the Ohio Union during the U.S. presidential election at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio November 6, 2012.

Like many states, Ohio Republicans had a very good year in the 2010 elections, and one of the key priorities for the GOP-led state government in 2011 was redistricting -- or more to the point, gerrymandering.

Their efforts worked exactly as intended. Republicans now hold 12 of Ohio's 16 U.S. House seats, and neither party has flipped a district this decade. Even when Barack Obama won Ohio in 2012, the congressional races went as planned: GOP candidates received 52% of the vote and 75% of the power.

All of which made the Buckeye State a prime target for redistricting reform. The Republican-led legislature, fearing a more ambitious and progressive proposal championed by the League of Women Voters and its allies, got to work on its own anti-gerrymandering plan, which went before voters yesterday, and passed easily.

While gerrymandering disputes from other states have landed in the U.S. Supreme Court, Ohio voters took the historic step Tuesday of passing a bipartisan proposal aimed at creating fairer and more logical congressional districts.Issue 1 amends the Ohio Constitution by putting rules in place, where none exist now, aimed at creating districts that make geographic sense - rather than districts designed solely with political gain in mind. [...]The unofficial vote tally showed Issue 1 with a 75 percent to 25 percent lead -- 1,165,409 votes for to 391,527 against.

For reformers, the tally was good news, but some caution is in order: this a modest step that may not work out.

Vox explained that under the new model, which will be in effect when Ohio and every other state tackle the issue after the 2020 census, the state legislature will have a different kind of blueprint to follow:

1. To start off, the Ohio legislature would be tasked with drawing a new map. But they could no longer pass it with a simple majority vote. They’d need three-fifths support and the support of at least half the members of both major parties, in each chamber, as well as the governor’s signature.2. If there’s no deal, the congressional map-drawing would be punted over to the seven-member Ohio commission that exists to handle the state legislature’s redistricting. Here, again, bipartisanship would be necessary -- at least two minority-party members would have to agree to approve a new map.3. If the commission fails, the job would be tossed back to the Ohio legislature. In that case, the threshold for success would fall, but bipartisanship would still be necessary to pass a map -- at least one-third of each party’s members would have to vote for it, to pass it and send it for the governor’s signature.

And if that doesn't work out, the existing system -- the legislature draws a map and passes it like any other bill, and the governor signs it into law -- would be followed. The catch is, if the bipartisan approach comes up short, the new map will expire after four years, at which point Ohio policymakers would start anew.

Is it a step in a reform-minded direction? Yes. Is it a sweeping change that eliminates the prospect of a gerrymandered map? Not exactly.