Twenty-six states have now gone through the process of drawing and approving new congressional districts, but at least nine of those states have faced lawsuits alleging the approved maps were tampered with or otherwise illegal. And as a possible sign of things to come, the first of those cards was knocked over today.
On Friday morning, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that Ohio’s new congressional map violates the partisan justice requirement of the state constitution. The rejected card would have created 11 Republican-leaning seats to just two Democratic-leaning seats (plus two heavily contested seats), which is disproportionate to Ohio’s bright red partisan leanings. The rejected card also had an efficiency gap (a measure of which party has fewer “wasted” votes — i.e., votes that don’t contribute to a candidate’s victory) of R+16, indicating a strong bias toward Republicans.
Ohio might just be the first state whose new congressional card is also knocked over. As the table below shows, several states perform even worse than Buckeye State on map fairness, and many of these maps are already being challenged in court.
The overturned map of Ohio was one of many biased maps
The median seat bias and efficiency gap (two measures of card fairness) of new Congressional cards enacted through January 13, 2022
||party in control▲▼
Includes states with more than two congressional districts.
Sources: US Census Bureau, The Upshot, Voting Election and Science Team, Ryne Rohla/Decision Desk HQ
To give you an idea of which cards may be at risk, we’ve added the label “In Litigation” to both the national page of our redistricting tracker (about halfway down the page in the table) and each corresponding state page.
Outside of Ohio, the map most likely to be overturned is perhaps that of North Carolina, which has made 71 percent of the state’s congressional districts Republican, despite giving former President Donald Trump just 50 percent of the vote in 2020. A lawsuit arguing that the card is an illegal partisan and racial Gerrymander is currently making its way through the North Carolina court system and is expected to be decided by the state Supreme Court, which has a 4-3 Democratic majority and in the Past the GOP legislature’s congressional cards toppled.
In that way, the Ohio decision could be a turning point for the overall narrative of the 2021-22 redistribution cycle. Up to this point it was somewhat ambiguous which party had won seats from the redistricting (after FiveThirtyEight partisanship there were six more Democratic-leaning seats and the same number of Republican-leaning seats; considering which party currently holds the seat, Republicans had won about three seats and Democrats had lost about two). Broadly speaking, this meant preserving a Republican-leaning status quo.
However, Ohio’s card cancellation raises the possibility that this status quo will not be maintained and that Democrats could emerge from this redistribution cycle on a more even playing field for the House of Representatives. Of course, a lot still has to happen for this to happen. First, Democrats need favorable court decisions in North Carolina or other states.
Another important factor will be what the Ohio map will look like later. A proportional map — say, one with eight Republican-leaning seats and seven Democrat-leaning seats — could give the Democrats an extra three seats alone, but that’s unlikely to become a reality. The court ordered the Ohio legislature to take another crack at drawing the lines, and since the legislature is Republican-controlled, it will likely still draw a map that carries the GOP, but modestly enough to pass the statutory muster to pass.
Regardless of where the dust settles in Ohio, however, Friday’s decision is a reminder that the book doesn’t necessarily end with redistricting if a new map is approved. The courts are actually the final phase of the new election process, and with the Ohio verdict, that phase has now officially begun.