The Gerrymander Game

Ohio Republicans and Democrats have agreed to a final, revised map for Ohio congressional districts.  It has been a contentious issue that might have produced yet another referendum vote.

From the hyperbolic e-mails sent by Ohio Democratic Party Chair Chris Redfern, you’d think this was the greatest victory for representative democracy since the Revolutionary War.  Is it, really?  A Cleveland Plain Dealer article shows the new map and provides links that allow comparison to prior versions.  Are there material differences in terms of how the districts have been drawn?  Are those in the new map more soberly rectangular or geographically cohesive than those in the prior map?  Not so far as I can tell.  Both maps feature spidery and sprawling districts with notches and carve-outs than can be explained only by conscious decisions to move blocs of voters from one district to another in an effort to make a district more “safe” for the Democrats or the Republicans.

And that, at bottom, is what I find so galling about the redistricting process.  Our political classes view neighborhoods and communities like bricks to be moved from here to there, as if the voters who live in those areas will always mindlessly follow the same voting patterns.  Their goal is always to protect their parties and their incumbents.  Fortunately for everyone, voters aren’t robots.  They move from one area to another, and they change their minds about candidates and parties based on actual performance.  That’s why, despite the most carefully drawn redistricting plans, incumbents still can lose.

So forgive me if I don’t join in any hosannas about the changed Ohio map.  I’ll just trust the voters of Ohio, instead.  So long as they remain healthily skeptical of our political leaders and willing to evaluate their actual performance, the machinations of people like Chris Redfern and his Republican counterparts won’t irretrievably damage our state.

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