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Extreme Gerrymandering Has Turned Ohio From a Swing State to a GOP Stronghold

Though Ohio is fairly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, the GOP boasts supermajorities in the legislature.

Voters leave after casting their ballots during primary voting at Central Elementary School on May 3, 2022, in Kent, Ohio.

Once a swing state, Ohio has turned solidly red. Extreme gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts could keep it that way for a long time.

Although Republicans control statewide offices such as governor, secretary of state and attorney general, the state is pretty evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Because of gerrymandering, Republicans boast supermajorities in the Ohio House and Senate.

They used that power to enact a ban on abortion after about six weeks into pregnancy, without exceptions for rape or incest. A judge temporarily blocked the law in September. While the majority of Ohio voters — 52% — opposed what’s known as the “heartbeat bill,” legislators have said they intend to enact an even stricter abortion ban later this year.

They’ve also brazenly ignored a series of 4-3 rulings from the Ohio Supreme Court that their legislative and congressional redistricting maps this year are unconstitutional. The court’s chief justice, a Republican who has sided with Democrats on the court in ruling against the maps, has vowed to campaign against gerrymandering in the state after stepping down from the bench at the end of this year.

The court ruled multiple times this year that proposed state legislative maps and U.S. congressional maps were unconstitutional. By coming back with new variations that didn’t fix the issue, Republican legislators waited out the calendar to be able to move forward with gerrymandered maps for this November’s election.

Unlike in some other states, the Ohio Supreme Court did not go as far as drawing its own maps. Its latest ruling orders the legislature to redraw congressional maps for the 2024 election.

Republicans hold 12 of the state’s 16 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives due to maps the Princeton Gerrymandering Project gives an “F” for manipulation achieving “significant” partisan advantage.

Registration and Polling Places

Ohio has one of the most restrictive deadlines for registering to vote in the country — 30 days before an election, unless that falls on a weekend or holiday, as it does this year. That’s the minimum time for registration allowed under federal law.

But voters can cast their ballots in three ways: absentee voting by mail, early in-person voting or in-person voting on Election Day. The state has a nearly month-long period for early voting.

Voters are currently allowed to use utility bills, paychecks, a military ID or several other types of documentation to confirm their identity when voting at the polls. But a state Senate bill proposed in April would require in-person voters to show a photo ID.

Ohio purged nearly 98,000 voters from its registration list in 2021. People who don’t vote for six consecutive years, or fail to take one of a few other actions, such as responding to notices requesting they update their registration, can be struck from the rolls under Ohio law.

Those citizens would have to register again to vote.

An appeals court ruled in 2016 that Ohio’s purges violate federal law, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state in 2018.

Threats Follow False Voter Fraud Allegations

Amid former President Donald Trump’s false allegations of widespread voter fraud after he lost re-election in 2020, Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose determined that of the 5.9 million registered voters who cast ballots during the 2020 elections, 0.0005 percent of the ballots were fraudulent.

Yet LaRose issued Directive 2022-38 in June 2022, asking the state’s 88 county boards of elections to increase security requirements. LaRose’s office created a website link for people to submit anonymous tips about election fraud.

A gush of records requests about the 2020 elections, fueled by conspiracy theories advanced by Trump supporters, are hitting county boards of elections as officials try to prepare for November. The growing atmosphere of mistrust in elections led one Ohio man to enter an elementary school polling place and threaten to shoot up the voting machines.

Felony Disenfranchisement

Ohio residents are stripped of their voting rights while incarcerated on a felony conviction but can re-register to vote upon release, except for individuals convicted of two or more election-related crimes — including misdemeanors. They lose their rights to vote permanently, barring a pardon.

More than 50,000 Ohio voters were disenfranchised in 2020, 45% of whom were Black despite representing only about 12% of the state’s population.

Ohioans who are in jail awaiting trial or serving a misdemeanor sentence retain the right to vote, but voting rights advocates have decried what can amount to “de facto disenfranchisement,” as detailed in a recent Public Integrity report.

“Each year, at least 150,000 different people are booked into local jails in Ohio,” the Prison Policy Initiative contends, but many are not given the information or assistance needed to vote.

In December 2021, the voting rights groups Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates and All Voting is Local issued a report which found that Ohio has no formal policy for all its jails to follow: “Formal policies provide a written affirmation that most people who are in jail have the right to vote and that the staff at the boards of elections and jail facilities are held accountable to protect that right. Formal policies also ensure that a change in the sheriff’s office or jail staff will not lead to an infringement on the right to vote for people in jail. Without codified policies and practices, counties risk inconsistent and unfair approaches, as well as constitutional violations.”

Outside Funding Banned

As part of a state budget bill last year, Ohio became one of 24 states to ban local officials from accepting grants from private foundations to supplement the cost of running elections.

Right-wing organizations pushed copycat legislation on this issue, fueled by conspiracy theories about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. He donated $350 million to the nonprofit Center for Technology and Civic Life to offer grants that helped under-resourced communities expand early voting and recruit poll workers amid obstacles associated with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

This article first appeared on Center for Public Integrity and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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