The redistricting cycle is well underway. Some states have completed their new maps. Others are in the middle of the process. A few states won’t start the process until 2012. In many places, redistricting is complete, but there is a real possibility that courts or other challenges will undo or force changes to already completed maps.
One of those states is Ohio, which recently had its redistricting plans thrown into turmoil.
Ohio currently has an 18-member congressional delegation—13 Republicans and 5 Democrats. Because over the last decade Ohio’s population grew at a much slower rate than the country’s, it will only have 16 Representatives in the 113th congress.
Republicans control the redistricting process as they hold the governorship and control the legislature. They have enacted a law that creates a federal map that would very likely result in 12 Republicans and 4 Democrats in Congress.
But in the past week, all of this has been thrown into question. Ohio has a referendum process, by which a law can be suspended and later put to a vote if the requisite number of signatures is collected. Ohio Democrats were already using this referendum process to try to overturn a labor law change they view as anti-union.
Last week, a state supreme court ruling was issued that allowed Democrats to proceed with collecting signatures to suspend and overturn the redistricting map as well.
Here is how it would work: Within 90 days of the passage of the redistricting law, Democrats would have to collect the signatures of 6% of the voters in the 2012 gubernatorial election. If they get those signatures, the redistricting map would be suspended until it could be voted on at the November election.
This would mean that there is no redistricting map. Ohio cannot continue to use the old maps. They have two fewer representatives and the population has shifted in each of the districts. So someone will have to draw a new map.
One possibility is that a court would step in and draw the map. If that occurs, Democrats believe that they would win many more seats in Congress than under the current plan. Or Republicans could strike a deal with Democrats over a new map, which again would likely result in more Democratic representatives. Or Republicans could split off a small number of Democrats to secure a ⅔ vote of each house of the state legislature, which would head off the referendum. Some have also suggested the possibility of having all 16 representatives run statewide, but current federal law requires states to have districts.
What all of this means is that the map that looked like it was set is now in flux. The dates of the primaries may be moved, and candidates will not be sure of the shape of the districts for quite some time.
In other states, it is not so complicated, but the prospect of legal challenges to near-complete redistricting maps means that we are a long way from knowing what the final district lines will look like.