A Redistricting Tutorial

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State boundaries in the United States are not very likely to be changed. The last transition was in 1959 when Hawaii was added as the 50th state. But within the U.S. the congressional district boundaries are in a state of flux every ten years when a new census is recorded. And due to the census in 2010, much of the 435 congressional districts in the country are expected to be remapped.

Like New York, the State of Ohio is going to loose two seats because the population growth isn’t keeping up with other states. Between 2000 and 2010, the population of Ohio grew only about 200.000 people while the population of Texas increased by 5 million wherefore the southern state gains four additional seats. The consequence is that it is required to reduce the 18 districts in Ohio to 16, causing two politicians to lose their seats.

This reduction leads to the necessary of reshaping the district map and redrawing new district lines because every district has to represent the same amount of people. It is a rule, based on the Voting Rights Act which says that the vote of each resident has to count the same. However, democratic senators say that the new map is based on gerrymandering and that it wouldn’t reflect the Ohio history of a purple state as a balanced state between republicans and democrats.

The 10th congressional district where Representative Dennis Kucinich, Democrat, serves will be combined with the 9th district held by Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Democrat. The second district lost will set up a primary between Rep. Betty Sutton, Democrat, against Republican Rep. Jim Renacci.

As a result, the new district lines in Ohio change the Republican advantage in Congressional seats from 13-5 to 12-4 or even 13-3, depending on the outcome of the competition between Sutton and Renacci. The change would, according to the Democrats, marginalize the voices of the liberal voters.

The process of congressional redistricting is very complicated and mostly always political. There are only a few exceptions, like the states of Washington, Arizona and California, which regulate the redistricting process through bipartisan, nonpartisan or citizen-based commissions. This year in Ohio, the Republican Party proposed a map that the House of Representatives and the State Senate approved. Both chambers are ruled by a republican majority. This provides the ruling party with power over the redistricting process to draw district boundaries in ways that protect its incumbents. Therefore, the ruling party usually engages experts who analyze the data from party registration and previous election results.

Finally by the use of computer mapping software, they try to creating a large number of seats that are reasonably safe for the ruling party and a small number of districts that are extremely safe for the opposing party. They achieve this for instance by transfer voters from a dominant district like an urban area to a district that the party has newly won in the countryside. Critics say that this is undemocratic and would affect campaigning and limit the public influence. Because of the safe districts there would be no reason for the incumbents to listen to voters.

It is also criticized that 68 of 88 counties are split and allocated to several districts. For instance the City of Toledo, located in Lucas County, is divided into three districts. Thereby local governments are forced to work with several Representatives that slows down the process of advancing city-wide projects.