By Jim Ellis
July 21, 2021 — Thanks to the state of Ohio, the redistricting calendar has new life. The Buckeye State’s lawsuit against the Census Bureau and a negotiated out of court settlement led to an agreement that all 50 states will receive their redistricting census tract data on or around Aug. 15 instead of well into October or beyond.
Typically, states receive their individual data, mandatory for drawing federal congressional districts that must be drawn to a factor of plus or minus one person, during the early part of the year. The Census Bureau largely blames this year’s delays on COVID-19, though a great deal of the problem centers around the bureaucracy attempting to impose differential privacy on part of the data, meaning some of the key statistical information would not be released. The states not having full access would lead to the new districts being less statistically reliable.
Even the August data distribution agreement, however, creates a tenuous situation for the states to complete their redistricting work and still adhere to mandatory internal local deadlines. This is particularly true for the states like Ohio that are losing or gaining congressional representation.
Ohio grew at a percentage rate of just 2.3 through the decade, ranking 44th in the nation and just over a full percentage point below the national average. The 2020 census numbers add to the continuing trend for this state of failing to keep pace with national population growth. In the 1980 census, for example, Ohio held 21 congressional districts. It would lose two congressional seats in the 1990 apportionment, one more in 2000, and two more in 2010 to bring us to its current total of 16. The 2020 census reduces the delegation to 15 seats.
Currently, the Ohio US House delegation stands at a party division of 12R-4D. Since the count is so lopsided in the Republicans’ favor, it looks on paper that the GOP would be the party that loses one of its members.
Looking closely at the individual district population data, however, that may not be the case. Despite the Dems having only four seats, three of their four are among Ohio’s most under-populated CDs, while one, the 3rd District of Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus), actually must shed the most population, some 34,000-plus residents according to the latest published figures (July 2019). Adding the last year of population statistics could change the situation, but at first glance the statewide and district totals suggest alterations will only be minor.
Therefore, we look at which districts might be the most vulnerable to loss, and they come in the Cleveland area. The most under populated seat is the vacant 11th District that will host its special primary election on Aug. 3. When the new numbers are made public in the middle of next month, it would not be surprising to see this Cleveland anchored CD requiring an additional 100,000-plus residents.
Yet, the 11th won’t be the district collapsed because it is majority minority and doing so would bring certain Voting Right Act action in court. Therefore, two options are open to the Republican map drawers who control the process, assuming they want to draw a 12R-3D map.
First, would be to collapse the open 13th District of Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, who is running for the Senate. His district shares the city of Akron with District 11, thereby making an easy draw to add to the latter more of Summit County. The eastern part of District 13, which extends through Warren and Youngstown and then to the Pennsylvania border, would be annexed by the Republican Districts 14 (Rep. David Joyce; R-Russell Township) to its north and CD 6 (Rep. Bill Johnson; R-Marietta) to the south. Both also need increased population.
Rep. Johnson’s eastern Ohio seat is the only Republican seat in the top four districts needing a resident influx, so his territory must substantially expand. Rep. Joyce’s district, beginning on the shore of Lake Erie and with Pennsylvania as its eastern border, must come south. This district needs the sixth largest population influx; therefore, this entire scenario of collapsing CD 13 becomes workable from a map drawing perspective.
The district needing the second highest number of new people is veteran Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s (D-Toledo) elongated 9th CD that stretches along the Lake Erie shoreline in order to connect Cleveland with Toledo. This district could be primed for collapse since the 11th District could further move west into Cleveland thus capturing a large portion of the people it needs. The Toledo portion could then be engulfed by Rep. Bob Latta’s (R-Bowling Green) 5th District, also under-populated, that will require at least 60,000 more residents.
While this would bring Democratic Toledo into his district, the rest of the seat is Republican enough to compensate for the additional left-of-center voters. The 9th District’s County portions that lie between Cleveland and Toledo and touch Lake Erie, from Lorain, Erie, and Ottawa, would then be distributed to Reps. Latta and Jim Jordan’s (R-Urbana) districts. Jordan’s seat will likely need approximately 70,000 new residents.
Should the map drawers decide to collapse a Republican seat, the most logical option is likely sophomore Rep. Anthony Gonzalez’s (R-Rocky River) 16th District. Though finding more Republicans to improve Rep. Steve Chabot’s (D-Cincinnati) is a top GOP priority, it may not be possible to substantially improve his western Ohio 1st District but sitting in a corner of the state and anchored in a large city, CD-1 will not be collapsed.
The Gonzalez seat encompasses many western Cleveland suburbs and travels to the outskirts of Akron in Summit County. Lying among five other districts in northeast Ohio without a geographic impediment makes this seat easier to collapse if the map drawers so intend.
Currently, Gonzalez has drawn a serious Republican primary challenger from his political right, former Trump White House aide Max Miller who has raised just short of $1 million and has more than $500,000 in the bank. This intra-party challenge obviously complicates Rep. Gonzalez’s political situation to an even greater degree.
Ohio will clearly be one of the 2021 national redistricting focal points, and much more will be known about the initial congressional plan formation in the coming few weeks.