Redistricting 2021: Buckle Up!

For the 2020 election, some candidates for the Ohio General Assembly jumped in with official campaigns as early as January 2019. The frequency of new names and campaigns, or elected officials looking to run for another office, ramped up steadily over the course of that year heading into the primary election filing deadline in December.

This year is different. Many prospective candidates will be waiting out the redistricting process later this year. Every decade, the years that end in “1” (the year after each U.S. Census) are when the redistricting process occurs. Electoral districts are drawn based on population numbers, so when the fresh batch of population data rolls in from the Census results, district borders need to change to adapt. Now, redistricting is a very political process, and in a state like Ohio where redistricting is occurring with one party having a supermajority in both state legislature chambers and holding all statewide executive offices, that process can be heavily influenced to favor said party. You may have heard the term for this: gerrymandering.

Several years back, Ohio voters chose by ballot issue referendum to enact new statutes and rules that aim to curb gerrymandering. 2021 will be the first redistricting process with these new rules in place. You can find a robust guide on the new rules and the technical process of how redistricting happens here. As you can see, redistricting applies to both state and federal districts.

The new statute directs those drawing the map to attempt to keep counties whole as well as municipalities. There is a likelihood that regardless of political influence on the process, districts may look different going into next year’s election. There may be current incumbents drawn into the same new district together, triggering a potential primary election showdown. On the flip side of that coin, an incumbent may be drawn out of his or her current district, lining up an open seat. There is also a possibility that Ohio loses a Congressional seat due to our new overall population count compared to other states.

Ohio has an open U.S. Senate race heating up with a growing field of official and potential candidates. Since it’s a statewide race, there is no need to wait for the new district map to run for that seat. However, there may be some incumbent congressional representatives waiting for a new map to see what shape they would be in running for reelection before deciding to join the fray in an attempt to join the Senate.

One major hurdle to overcome – making this redistricting year particularly unique – is that the U.S. Census Bureau announced they are delaying releasing results from the original deadline of March 31 to September 30. This potentially puts time constraints on a process that may need that time to sort out issues ahead of the 2022 primary election filing deadline. But Ohio, through Attorney General Dave Yost, quickly sued as the first state to push back on the U.S. Census Bureau’s decision to extend the results deadline.

If it’s not on your radar yet, Ohio’s redistricting process will be rising high on the priority list for our elected officials over the next several months into the summer. And it will be the hot-ticket item as the process ramps up in the second half of the year. But if the lawsuit to release Census results is successful, redistricting may be catapulted into the spotlight sooner. Once a new map is eventually finalized, prepare to see the floodgates open with many new candidates announcing runs for various elected offices and interesting moves by incumbents.