Would you play poker with someone who has taken all the face cards in one deck to deal to themselves while you’re left to get cards from a deck with no kings, queens, jacks, or aces?
Would you play Monopoly with someone who gets to start the game pre-owning hotels on Boardwalk, Park Place, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Pacific?
That’s what gerrymandering is: cheating. Who’s being cheated? The voters.
For the gerrymandering grifters, the voters are the mark, the suckers; not to be respected, and believed to be too dumb and complacent to do anything about having representational democracy ripped away from them election cycle after election cycle.
Why desecrate the freedom and the power of voters, the most sacred and fundamental bedrock of the American Republic? To enshrine fraudulently won supermajority political power.
This is cynicism in its most craven and destructive political form. It’s a slavish devotion to power at all costs no matter the damage it does. And it’s cowardly. It’s being afraid of a fair fight.
Gerrymandering guarantees general election victories and political power to the party drawing the districts. This means that general elections become an absurd farce — the outcomes predetermined; the actual results incidental, a pro forma afterthought.
That the politicians who win these rigged elections crow about their glorious victories would be comical if it wasn’t so shameful and obtuse.
Look at me. I won a rigged game where my victory was guaranteed. Aren’t I special? It’s the equivalent of an adult dunking on a 5-year-old and strutting off the court thumping their chest about their own athletic magnificence.
I’ve yet to live through an Ohio election cycle not subjected to the noxious predations of gerrymandering. In the 1980s, the Democrats wielded the redistricting pen to their own advantage. In the 1990s, Ohio Republicans did it. Then Ohio Republicans did it again in the 2000s, then again in the 2010s, and now again for the 2020s unless the Ohio Supreme Court holds them accountable.
In every case, for 40 years, it’s been despicable, but public awareness has grown.
Many of us have watched in horror as our elected representatives continually debase themselves with the most toxic, thoughtless, cruel and insensitive discourse.
Many of us have wondered how, with solid majorities behind so many popular proposed public policies, the will of the people could remain so thoroughly unaccomplished.
In fact, we see extremism and corruption run rampant as the opposite of what large majorities of Ohioans want is done time and time again.
The most glaring recent example is gerrymandering itself.
More than 71% of Ohio voters amended the Ohio Constitution in 2015 to bring about fair, bipartisan Statehouse districts, and nearly 75% did so again in 2018 for congressional seats.
Instead, Ohio Republicans gave voters more supermajority gerrymandering of the Ohio House, more supermajority gerrymandering of the Ohio Senate, and the absurdly disproportionate continued gerrymandering of Ohio’s U.S. Congressional districts.
Now we see a variety of Ohio Republican politicians bucking for promotions, pulling up seats to enjoy these hot-off-the-griddle districts.
A George Mason University poll from 2019 showed 63% of Ohioans supporting more sources of renewable energy, only 7% saying that the development of nuclear energy is the most important priority, and 54% opposing Ohio House Bill 6, the $1.3 billion nuclear and coal power plant bailout that was passed and is now the subject of what prosecutors call the biggest political bribery scandal in state history. This is not a legislature enacting the public will.
A 2019 Quinnipiac University poll showed 52% of Ohio voters opposed so-called “heartbeat bill” abortion restrictions while only 39% supported it, with opposition spanning gender, age and religion. The bill was passed by Ohio’s gerrymandered supermajority Republican legislature, though it quickly became mired in litigation and didn’t take effect. Nevertheless, Ohio Republicans have remained fixated on making abortions illegal in every way imaginable.
A 2018 poll from Baldwin Wallace University showed Ohioans support a wide range of new gun laws, including between 61% and 75% support for banning high-powered semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15, banning extended ammunition magazines, banning bump stocks that make semi-automatic rifles basically automatic, enacting a mandatory waiting period on all gun purchases, and raising the minimum age to buy semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21.
Instead, the gerrymandered supermajority Ohio Republican legislature has turned Ohio into a so-called “stand your ground” state and is moving a bill allowing Ohioans 21-and-up to carry concealed weapons without any background checks or firearms training.
Gerrymandering impacts not just what Statehouse politicians do, but what they refuse to do. Even with 61% of Ohioans supporting making it illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ people in employment, Ohio general assemblies have neglected to pass the Ohio Fairness Act every single time it’s been introduced since 2011.
How about the COVID-19 pandemic? In the early months of the crisis, 85% of Ohioans supported the measures Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was taking against the spread of the virus.
Since then, instead of supporting their own governor’s efforts, supermajority Ohio Republican lawmakers have spent 19 months doing everything they can to undermine and counteract the public health fight against the deadly disease.
How could this all be? Gerrymandering.
Because these politicians never have to fear losing a general election, their only political vulnerability is on their flanks: getting primaried out of office by someone of their own party willing to be more extreme than them.
So they run to these extremes, only representing the radical factions of their base and their campaign funders, and ignoring the will of the majority of voters, millions rendered unrepresented and voiceless by rigged districts and woefully inadequate campaign finance laws.
Gerrymandering is a toxin in the lifeblood of a Republic, its venom devouring the body politic from the inside out. It is the design of contemptuous charlatans masquerading as public servants.
Gerrymandering pushes politicians to extremes, denies voters their voice, opens the door to corruption, radicalizes political discourse, kills compromise, and disintegrates democracy. Gerrymandering poisons everything.
David DeWitt has more than 15 years experience covering Ohio government, politics and policy, including education, health care, crime and courts, poverty, state and local government, business, labor, energy, environment, and social issues. He has worked for the National Journal, The New York Observer, The Athens NEWS, and Plunderbund.com. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and is a board member of the E.W. Scripps Society of Alumni and Friends.