Politics

How Fast Can You Put Ohio Back Together?

Republicans’ gerrymander architect referred to downtown Columbus as “dog meat voting territory.”

Animated puzzle of Ohio's redistricting map
Slate

Next year, state lawmakers will redraw the congressional district maps based on the 2020 census, a process mandated by the Constitution. In anticipation of this new redistricting cycle, Slate is revamping our gerrymander puzzle game from 2013 as part of our Who Counts? initiative. We’ll be releasing new puzzles over the upcoming weeks, highlighting the worst and weirdest gerrymanders in the country. Find out how quickly you can put these states back together and learn everything that’s at stake in the next round of redistricting.

Ohio Republicans got greedy—and sloppy—when drawing their aggressive congressional gerrymander after the 2010 election. GOP lawmakers packed most Democratic voters into just four out of the state’s 16 districts, creating ragged blue smudges that are, in some spots, barely contiguous. The map has served its purpose, consistently handing Republicans 12 districts, a number wildly disproportionate to the party’s actual share of the statewide vote.

But these mapmakers flew too close to the sun. Through lawsuits and public records requests, progressives peered behind the scenes of Ohio’s redistricting process and discovered legal and ethical rot. Republican mapmakers rented a covert hotel room nicknamed “the bunker” so they could meet in secret with political operatives. Thomas Hofeller, the GOP gerrymandering guru now notorious for perfecting racist redistricting, helped lead the project. He described the heavily Democratic area of downtown Columbus as “dog meat voting territory.”

Then–Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Republican, also played a role. Boehner aide Tom Whatman tinkered continually with the map, apparently at the behest of the speaker himself. Most notably, Whatman ordered mapmakers to keep a specific manufacturing plant in Rep. Jim Renacci’s district. Top officials at the plant, along with its owners, had given $210,000 to Renacci over the last two years. This change, Whatman explained, was “very important to someone very important to us all.”

The public disclosure of these unseemly details appears to have turned Ohioans against gerrymandering. In 2018, they overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative that will require bipartisan cooperation and transparency in future redistricting, starting next year. The days of the bunker are over.

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