Redistricting In Ohio: A Primer

NPR's Audie Cornish talks to Paul Beck, professor of political science at Ohio State University, about Ohio's loss of two congressional seats after the 2010 census. Ohio will go from having 18 seats to 16. Beck explains who's in charge of the process of downsizing and how it will work.

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AUDIE CORNISH, host:

Census data out this week confirmed that the U.S. population has, of course, grown, but also shifted from the Northeast and Midwest to the Sun Belt. And that means a redistribution of congressional seats. There are winners and losers. And one of the biggest losers is Ohio. Over the past decade, Ohio's population grew, but at a much slower rate than other states and the country overall. So, Ohio is one of two states, along with New York, that will lose two congressional seats. Ohio will go from having 18 seats to 16.

Now, to talk about how that's going to happen, we turn to Paul Beck. He's a professor of political science at Ohio State University. Professor Beck, welcome.

Professor PAUL BECK (Political Science, Ohio State University): Good to be with you, Audie.

CORNISH: So, two congressional districts in Ohio will have to go. Who's in charge of the process in that state and how does it work?

Prof. BECK: OK, the way it works for congressional districts is that the state legislature takes the initiative. The governor can exercise his influence through a veto. They were all three held by the Republicans, Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House, comfortable ones, certainly in the Senate. And, of course, the governor-elect is a Republican as well.

The one thing that is required under the Constitution is that the congressional districts be equal in population size, at least within the state. And so the areas of Ohio that are losing population, those would be mostly northeastern Ohio, the seats will be taken out of that particular region first.

CORNISH: So, the area you're talking about losing is, you're talking about Cleveland, it sounds like.

Prof. BECK: That's right. It's Cleveland, Akron, Canton, historically Democratic area. It's an area that's been losing population, really, since the 1970s. And so there have been continuing whacks taken out of those districts.

CORNISH: And when I think of the lawmakers from that area, I'm thinking of Dennis Kucinich, I'm thinking of Betty Sutton, I'm thinking of Representative Marcia Fudge. What's some of the calculus, you think, that is going to go into deciding how to make snips and cuts at a district and reshape it?

Prof. BECK: Well, there are two primary techniques. One is called packing, the other is called cracking. Packing is that you take voters from the opposition party and pack as many of them into a single district as you can. So there are more than enough to elect somebody from that party, but they don't spill over into other districts to compete with people from your party.

The Cleveland area is a good example of packing. The Marcia Fudge district is 80 to 85 percent Democratic. Obviously, more than enough Democrats there to elect a Democrat under any circumstances. The good cracking example comes from the Columbus area. There are two congressional districts, two major ones, at least, in the Columbus metropolitan area. Both of them are competitive districts. If you were to take the city of Columbus, it could justify one district that would be a Democratic district, a safe Democratic district.

Instead, what was done in 2000, and I think will be done again in 2011, is to split that in half, add Republicans from the outlying suburban districts and turn what might have been one safe district for the Democrats and a safe district for the Republicans, into two competitive districts, both of which Republicans could win and indeed have won in 2010. And there's a good chance they would be able to hold those districts going on.

CORNISH: And Ohio's traditionally been an important state when it's come to presidential races. But with the loss of two congressional seats, that means they're obviously going to lose some Electoral College votes in that presidential race. So, what does that mean for the state?

Prof. BECK: Well, obviously they will have 16 congressional seats. If you add the two senatorial seats to that, it gives them 18 Electoral College votes. It'll still be a battleground state. I really expect that there will be a lot of attention paid to Ohio in 2012 because even only 18 electoral votes is a considerable prize to take home. And both presidential candidates will want that prize.

CORNISH: That's Paul Beck, professor of political science at Ohio State University. Professor Beck, thanks so much.

Prof. BECK: Thank you, Audie, good to talk to you.

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