GOP Congress Map Controlled By Small Circle
Again, only a handful of prominent Republican cartographers and lawmakers were aware of the mapping process as the lines of Congress were drawn over about a month.
Despite voter-approved changes to the Ohio Constitution to curb partisan gerrymandering and improve transparency, Republicans were able to create maps outside of the perspective of the public – and many other officials, according to depositions and the legal records in the final card prosecution of Congress.
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This map is the first test of reforms that voters in Ohio overwhelmingly passed in 2018 to prevent or limit politicians from drawing ridings that favor their political party over the other. Voters also approved changes to the way the state House and Senate maps are drawn in 2015.
Two lawsuits – one filed by voting rights groups and another affiliated with former Democratic attorney general Eric Holder – accuse GOP cartographers of drawing lines for Ohio’s 15 congressional districts in a way that unfairly favors Republican candidates.
The map, conservatively, creates 10 congressional safe districts for Republicans, two safe districts for Democrats and three “arguably competitive districts that will favor Republicans,” according to a lawsuit.
The depositions in those lawsuits underscored how the card came together.
Senate Republicans’ chief cartographer Ray DiRossi told lawyers he started work on the congressional map in mid-October – a month after the state’s legislative maps were approved. His computer with line drawing software resided on a six-foot folding table in the William Green building of the Ohio office.
His House GOP counterpart, Blake Springhetti, also worked in this room. But unlike the maps for the Ohio House and Senate lines, the two cartographers worked on separate proposals for the Congress map, which included 15 districts due to Ohio’s low population growth.
On the Senate side, DiRossi worked with Senator Rob McColley, R-Napoleon. On the House side, the lawmaker who introduced the card – Rep. Scott Oelslager – has had little influence. The end product, signed by Gov. Mike DeWine on Nov. 20, was a product of the GOP-controlled legislature – not the seven-member Ohio Redistribution Commission.
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There appears to be a conscious effort on the part of cartographers to communicate in person, rather than exchanging information via text or email.
Lawyers asked DiRossi if he was working on maps with John Morgan, a Republican redistribution consultant who a Virginia lawmaker described as a “mastermind of gerrymandering.” DiRossi’s attorneys advised him not to answer questions about Morgan, saying it would violate attorney-client privilege.
âMr. Morgan has been retained by an outside lawyer for the president and the president,â said Gregory McGuire, one of the lawyers for the GOP legislative leaders.
Senate Republicans had a plan to address voter concerns about past cards. This plan was competitiveness.
“There haven’t been any competitive elections in the last decade, and that’s what we’re trying to rectify,” DiRossi said in his testimony.
The Senate GOP decided on a measure for competitive constituencies: plus or minus 4 percentage points, based on the last decade of federal elections.
By this metric, the GOP map created seven competitive districts. If mappers had also used statewide election results, that number of competitive districts would have shrunk by a couple.
âWe focused on the federal election results for federal districts and thought this was the most appropriate and reasonable approach to using and promoting competitive districts,â said DiRossi.
Lawyers for Republican lawmakers have also included an analysis by Brigham Young University political science professor Michael Jay Barber. He pointed to the competitiveness of the Senate GOP card and that it combined the fewest cardholders.
âCompared to the 2011-2020 district plan, the adopted plan creates more competitive districts and is on par or more competitive than the plans of the House and Senate Democrats in five of the six comparisons,â Barber wrote.
However, analysis by Harvard University professor Kosuke Imai revealed that the map adopted by the GOP was unfair to Democratic voters. The efficiency deviation, which measures settlement and cracking, is 15% for the enacted map – well above 5.7% in the simulated designs.
“This implies that the adopted plan wastes about 219,000 more Democratic votes on average than the sham plans, and about 219,000 fewer Republican votes,” Imai wrote.
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How the sausage was made
McColley unveiled the Republicans’ first Senate card on November 3. House Republicans created their own map, without consulting the Senate GOP, which they presented on the same day.
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Then negotiations began between Republicans. DiRossi attended a meeting with President Bob Cupp, R-Lima and House Cartographer Blake Springhetti on November 9. Governor Mike DeWine joined a meeting with Republican legislative leaders and cartographers in the coming days.
âI know there were changes made to this card until November 13 or 14,â DiRossi said. “So the map was changing, you know, almost until the very last minute.”
At the end of November 15, GOP cartographers shared the second and ultimately the final version of the Congressional maps with state lawmakers and the media. Over the next few days, the card was approved and signed by DeWine. No Democrats voted for the bill, meaning it will last four years instead of 10.
Following:Ohio Republicans unveil new congressional map. See here.
The Ohio Supreme Court is currently reviewing the congressional map. The lawyers will present their arguments at a later date.
Editors Anna Staver and Laura Bischoff contributed to this report.
Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal, and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.