COLUMBUS — Ohio has lost one seat in Congress as a result of new census figures released Monday, marking the sixth-straight decade of congressional declines for the state.
Prompted by sluggish population growth over the past decade, the loss of a U.S. House seat comes as the state embarks on a new system of drawing its congressional maps, which are considered among the most gerrymandered in the nation.
The latest census adjustment will take the state’s representation in the U.S. House to 15 representatives, down from the current 16. Ohio has lost a total of nine seats since 1960. Seats in the House are apportioned based on a formula tied to each state’s population as determined by the census’ once-per-decade head count.
Ohio’s population grew by 2.3% between 2010 and 2020, to 11.8 million residents, according to the new census data. The national population grew by 7.4%, according to the data.
Slow levels of job creation, failure to attract enough immigrants and a dearth of top-tier public research universities to attract and retain young talent are among reasons Ohio is not growing faster, said Ned Hill, a professor of economic development at Ohio State University’s Glenn College of Public Affairs.
Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has advanced several initiatives aimed at building Ohio’s pipeline of workers in burgeoning technology fields, including the creation of innovation zones in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati intended to make Ohio a medical epicenter, said spokesperson Dan Tierney.
The redrawing of political maps that is set to begin later this year could give Democrats an opportunity to reclaim control of several of the 15 remaining seats. Under the current Republican-drawn map, they control only four of 16 seats.
Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, said the new rules Ohio voters have approved will require districts to be more compact — by keeping counties and municipalities whole, among other things — and will make districts more competitive.
“One of the things we know we won’t have is ‘the snake on the lake,’” she said, referring to Ohio’s 9th District, which strings along Lake Erie to merge the distant cities of Toledo and Cleveland, both heavily Democratic. That’s a gerrymandering tactic that merges areas where one party dominates, no matter how distant they might be, into the same district as a way to dilute their voters’ political power when electing members of Congress or the state legislature.
Eliminating that level of manipulation will mean both Republican and Democratic incumbents could see tougher contests next fall, Turcer said.
Already, some moves suggest that Ohio congressional representatives can see what’s coming.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a Youngstown-area Democrat comfortably elected for years, announced a bid for the U.S. Senate earlier Monday, the first of several congressmembers to consider a run. GOP U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, whose central Ohio district’s Republican slant has been shrinking, recently has announced he’ll leave Congress. Former U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, a Cleveland Democrat, left her seat to become secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
An Associated Press analysis of the political mapmaking process controlled by Ohio Republicans found it proved nearly impenetrable to Democrats’ efforts during the 2018 elections. Republicans won at least three more House seats than would have been expected based on the average share of the votes they received, according to the AP’s mathematical formula.
The new redistricting process kicking in this year limits how counties are split into multiple districts and requires more support from the minority party to put a 10-year map in place. If state lawmakers can’t agree on that plan, an existing bipartisan commission would take over. If that failed, the majority party could pass a map that’s only in effect for four years.