- Ohio recently completed a two-year process to create new Senate and House district maps
- The majority of new districts are comprised of mostly census-designated rural regions
- 73 percent of senate districts and 63 percent of House districts are majority rural
- Rural regions comprise about 90 percent of the Ohio’s land, yet only 24 percent of its residents
- Ohio’s rural regions are largely white, and seem to be staying that way for the foreseeable future
- Overrepresentation of mostly white voices in rural areas may suppress the perspectives and opinions at the state level of Ohio’s growing Black, indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) populations
Impacts of the new legislative district maps
In the last week of September, the Ohio Redistricting Commission approved new legislative districts for the state of Ohio. It’s been a long process, with multiple versions of the map being ruled unconstitutional. While the new maps have been approved unanimously by the five Republicans and two Democrats on the commission, concerns remain about the presence of gerrymandering. The maps will likely provide Republicans with a 23-10 advantage in the Senate, and a 61-38 advantage in the House, despite the partisan breakdown in the state being about 54 percent Republican and 46 percent Democratic.
How will the new legislative districts impact representation?
With these new maps in place for the next eight years, and with little chance of them changing, it is important to explore how these maps may influence representation in our state. I recently conducted an analysis exploring the differences in racial makeup between urban and rural areas in the state. The conclusions were relatively straightforward; the BIPOC population continues to grow resulting in a more diverse Ohio. However, this growth in racial diversity is largely limited to Ohio’s urban and suburban areas. The rural regions of the state remain predominantly white, and unchanging in racial composition over the last ten years.
Roughly 92 to 95 percent of Ohioans aged 54 and younger in rural areas are white.
What I wanted to know specifically—with Ohio’s changing racial demographics largely taking place in its urban designated areas—is how much of these urban areas are represented in the newly drawn House and Senate districts. For context, about 76 percent of Ohioans live in urban-designated areas which comprise approximately 10 percent of the state’s land. Using a geospatial tool, I was able to overlay the new Senate and House districts over a map of Ohio’s urban designated areas. I was then able to run an analysis that calculated the percentage of each House and Senate district that was comprised of urban designated areas.
Ohio SENATE Districts (2024-2032) Overlayed Urban Rural Census Designations
In the Senate, 24 of the 33 districts are comprised of majority rural land. In 19 of these senate districts, over 80 percent of the area is designated rural.
Ohio HOUSE Districts (2024-2032) Overlayed Urban Rural Census Designations
In the new House districts, 59 of the 99 districts are comprised of majority rural land. Just under half (46 districts) of these districts are more than three-quarters rural in their land makeup.
A majority of state lawmakers come from districts that are largely white and rural
Rural Ohio comprises a strong majority of House and Senate districts within the state. This is particularly important because the population in these districts lack the racial diversity we see in more urban areas. For Ohioans aged 54 and younger in urban areas, roughly a quarter to over a third of residents are BIPOC depending on the age group, and growth over the last ten years indicates that these areas will continue to grow in racial diversity. In contrast, roughly 92 to 95 percent of Ohioans aged 54 and younger in rural areas are white. The lack of growth in racial diversity in rural areas over the last ten years also seems to indicate that these regions will continue to remain largely white for the foreseeable future.
Despite the state of Ohio’s population overall becoming more racially diverse, a majority of House and Senate lawmakers will come from districts that are largely white and rural. Regardless of political party, this has the potential to suppress the growing array of racially diverse voices in the state. While only about ten percent of those aged 75 and older in Ohio are BIPOC, roughly a third of the youngest Ohioans (ages 0-4) are BIPOC. The potential for suppression may continue to grow.
The usefulness of this urban-rural analysis lies in how we can explore the geographic growth and stagnation of racial diversity in the state from the last ten years, and what that portends for the future. Ohio should avoid suppressing its richness of racial diversity, experience, and beliefs, into a minority of districts, regardless of political party.