A federal court ruled Friday that Ohio’s congressional map was intentionally drawn "to disadvantage Democratic voters and entrench Republican representatives in power" and must be redrawn prior to the 2020 election.
The three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati unanimously ruled that the congressional map was “intentional and effective” in creating unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering that created “extreme” Republican partisan bias.
“They designed the 2012 map using software that allowed them to predict the partisan outcomes that would result from the lines they drew based on various partisan indices that they created from historical Ohio election data,” the judges stated in their 300-page ruling.
Several voting rights groups, including the ACLU and the League of Women Voters, sued Ohio in 2018. The district court ruled in agreement with those groups that the 2011 congressional map that was redrawn by Republicans is “one of the most egregious gerrymanders in recent history.”
Currently, Republicans control 12 out of 16 of the state's congressional districts, despite the state solidly re-electing a Democratic senator, Sherrod Brown, while narrowly electing a Republican governor, Mike DeWine, in 2018.
The judges also ruled that Ohio's map has given an advantage Republicans in every election and has helped maintain a 12-to-4 advantage for Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation.
This decision is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is currently considering gerrymandering cases in two states: Maryland and North Carolina, political experts say.
A three-judge panel passed down a similar ruling this month in Michigan’s which threw out the states' congressional and legislative maps, declaring them unconstitutionally gerrymandered. The courts in Michigan required its' state lawmakers to redraw some districts for 2020.
However, the implications of a redrawn congressional map vary between the two states.
"In Ohio, it is more clear cut that if there is a new map it would benefit Democrats," Kyle Kodnik, a University of Virginia political analyst and managing editor at Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball.
In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats were able to pick up enough congressional seats across the country to win back a majority in the House of Representatives. However, the Democrats' so-called "blue wave" didn't make it to Ohio, as they were not able to pick up any new seats in the state.
"Democrats weren't able to pick up a singe seat, and that tells us about the strength of the GOP gerrymandering," Kodnik said. "A 12-4 Republican map is not what you would call a fair map by any reasonable standard."
However, not all of the current Democratic seats in the state would be safe if the maps were redrawn according to Kodnik.
"Tim Ryan's district in northeast Ohio is one that has been trending Republican, and if redrawn, could turn into a swing district real fast," Kodnik said.
“These unfair maps perpetuate a cycle where districts are drawn to benefit the people in power,” Ryan said. “Ohio voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”
Ohio lawmakers have been tasked with drawing up a new district map by June 14, 2019. However, if the state is unable to make that deadline or creates a plan that is not “constitutionally permissible” then the courts will take control of the process.