Journalism and Current Events Toolkit (Document)
Meet the Producer: Brian Epstein (Document)
ALISON STEWART: Legislators like Connie Pillich are responsible for drawing the lines that determine voting districts for national congressional elections. In Ohio, Republicans control the state Senate. Pillich’s Democrats hold a slim majority in the State House of Representatives. If the Democrats lose the House, then the Republicans will control the whole legislature…and thus largely control the redrawing of district lines.
Both candidates are well aware of the implications.
MIKE WILSON: Which party controls the, the Ohio House of Representatives will have the upper hand in the redistricting process, this may determine the balance of power nationally for the next 10 years.
PILLICH: If — if we lose control of this seat the Republicans will be able to build their—their party structure in the state, which could have long-term implications nationally.
ALISON STEWART: In theory the districts are supposed to be redrawn based on census data to fairly represent the changes in population. In practice, it’s often something else.
CATHERINE TURCER: We're talking about raw political power. If you win, you could completely dominate the board and create districts that are really great for your members
ALISON STEWART: Catherine Turcer is the legislative director for Ohio Citizen Action, a non-profit organization that works on good-government issues in the state. Turcer showed us a favorite example of what happens when one party controls the entire process. This is the Ohio local state senate map. Before 1991, district six included part of Democratic leaning Dayton and an area of Republican suburbs. But Republicans, who had control of redistricting at the time creatively redrew the lines.
CATHERINE TURCER: So if you look at this district right here, this is district six. I call it the donut district, 'cause it kind of goes all the way around, up and down it. Imagine the suburbs that are here. These are the Republican suburbs. It's an entire district of Republican suburbs. Now, this doesn't mean that the Democrats are, you know, running around with like little halos either. They certainly drew the lines to support their party when they were in power as well.
ALISON STEWART: The manipulation of district lines is commonly known as Gerrymandering. The term goes all the way back to 1812 when the governor of Massachusets, Elbridge Gerry, passed a bill that rearranged district lines to assure his Jeffersonian Republican party an electoral advantage. One of the redrawn districts resembled a salamander… so a newspaper editor at the time called the new district a Gerrymander…
CATHERINE TURCER: Most of us want to believe that when we go to the polls we cast our ballot and the winner, you know, becomes our elected official. We don't like to believe that we're actually manipulated; that our votes are in fact impacted by this thing called redistricting. That means that they actually choose their voters rather than we get to choose them. What that does is it actually flips democracy on its head.
ALISON STEWART: That’s exactly what happened in District 28, the very same state house district that Connie Pillich and Mike Wilson are fighting over. In 2002 it was the site of a redistricting controversy. The district was represented by a Democrat, the Republicans who controlled the state legislature wanted it back.
CATHERINE TURCER: The Speaker of the House, this guy named Larry Householder-- he basically gerrymandered this district to make it easier for a Republican candidate .
The speaker’s chief of staff was caught on tape discussing what had been done…
RECORDING: Because of the changes that we've made in redistricting to help Jim, we essentially took 13,000 African Americans out of the Raussen district and put 14,000 Republicans in.
ALISON STEWART: District 28 did change shape, and lo and behold, in 2002 the Republicans took back the district. It wasn’t until the Democratic wave of 2008, with Obama at the top of the ticket, that Connie Pillich won back the seat for the Democrats.
ALISON STEWART: Everything that goes along with redistricting is legal, we all know it's legal. A lotta people are concerned that the mixture of politics with the redistricting is bad for democracy. It comes up again and again. What do you think?
ED GILLESPIE: You know, I understand the concern. And-- and people are gonna debate that and discuss it. My view is, that's the process that we're in. And so my role is to maximize it as best that we can. And to make sure that where-- you know, we can have an impact on redistricting-- by helping to elect Republicans in the State House and the State Senate, we do that.
ICKES: This is-- this is politics-- without any-- any-- embellishment. Where people get into a back room. And it literally is a back room, now full of computers. And it's precinct by precinct by precinct. And they know how many Republicans are in that precinct, how many Democrats are in that precinct, how many independents are in that precinct. They know the ethnic composition, and they fiddle and twiddle. But, we have what we have, and we have to deal with it.
ALISON STEWART: But Catherine Turcer doesn’t accept that voters have to “deal with it.” In 2005 Turcer and Ohio Ctizen Action succesfully got an initiative on the ballot to create a nonpartisan commission to take over the responsibilty of redistricting. But voters rejected it. Just this year Turcer backed legislation to change the rules of redistricting to encourage the creation of competitive districts. It failed, too. That means there is no chance to reform the system before the next round of redistricting next year.
CATHERINE TURCER: The fact that it’s back room deals… they happen every ten years, and they affect everything. It's really sad to me that we have this long history of manipulating voters. It's very sad to me that we are all gerrymandered. It's time to really reform the system. We need to change to something that is fairer, 'cause we all deserve to have our vote actually mean something.
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