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If the U.S. is supposed to be a representative democracy, when did this country go from voters picking their representatives to politicians picking their voters? WKSU takes a look at the evolution of Ohio's congressional district, how they've gone from making geographic sense to the twisted, contorted shapes they are today.

Summit County Has Four Congressional Districts But Not a Member of Congress to Call Its Own

Ohio’s congressional map divides Summit County into four jagged, meandering pieces – making it – along with Cuyahoga County – the most divided in the state. And unlike Cuyahoga, none of the four members of Congress who represent Summit County lives in the county.

In the first part of our series Gerrymandering: Shading the Lines, we take a look at what that means when it comes to representing the area in D.C.

The Drive

It was a chilly winter day in North Akron, just a few blocks from the Sand Run Metro Park. Out in a straight line heading just 4 miles southwest from this spot, you could travel through all four of Summit County’s congressional districts. But how long would it take to drive through the city and hit each one? I decided to find out. 

It was bumpy ride starting in David Joyce’s 14th District. I zig-zagged throughTim Ryan’s 13th District heading south into Marcia Fudge’s 11th. A city bus slowed me down as I turned near downtown to shoot across the west side of the city to finish in Jim Renacci's 16th District. In all, it took me about 20 minutes to hit all four.

Summit County Congressional map
The shades of Summit County's four Congressional Districts. It and Cuyahoga County are the most divided counties in the state.

“Who represents Akron and dismembered Summit County? A close examination of the congressional map shows stubby little fingers moving block by block across the county," Ohio State Professor Ned Hill testified this fall to a working group of four state legislators studying how Ohio divides up its 16 Congressional districts. 

Hill and about three-dozen others concluded: Not very well for those interested in representative government and who believe congressional map-making should do all it can to keep cities, counties and communities together.

“Does Tim Ryan, representing Ohio’s 13th District, wake up every morning and begin by reading the Beacon Journal or is it Youngstown’s Vindicator? Does Marcia Fudge begin her day with Cleveland’s Plain Dealer or the Beacon? Does David Joyce primarily represent metropolitan Cleveland, Akron or Northeast Ohio?

"Nobody represents Summit County," Hill said. 

More advocates or none
Gary Barker is a commercial real estate appraiser who lives in Green. He said he feels grossly underrepresented in Congress by districts that stretch 50 miles or more to the north, east and west of Summit County.

'Summit County, essentially, is almost large enough to have one representative, one Congressional representative. And the fact that we have four countywide is mind boggling'

“I can walk to three districts from my house and you would think ‘OK, well then I may be really represented. Maybe I could call three different people if I have a problem.'"

But he says that's not the way it works.

"They all care about my area, sure, but each one of those representatives -- Fudge, Renacci and Ryan -- lives more than 30-minute drive from my house.”

To Barker, that means issues specific to Akron and Summit County can be pushed aside in favor of constituencies in Cleveland, Youngstown or Wooster.

Democrat Marcia Fudge represents Ohio’s 11th district stretching from Cleveland south through Fairlawn and into downtown Akron. It's an overwhelmingly blue district, one of four in Ohio. The other 12 lean strongly red. Fudge told the Akron Press Club in 2014 that affects not just politics, but governing.

“So when you’re in a district that is more and more red you don’t worry about trying to work with people in districts that are more and more blue, because you are playing to your base. So it has a tremendous affect, there’s no question about it," Fudge said when asked about the impact of the Congressional map.

Drawing the lines

Ohio’s Congressional lines are drawn by the state Legislature every 10 years, following the U.S. Census, with the party in power pulling the strings.

Nationally, there are never more than 435 seats in the House of Representatives to be divided among the states. So when Ohio's population grew slower than other states, it lost two Congressional seats, dropping from 18 to 16. And the Republicans in charge of the state Legislature in 2011 drew the new map using precise demographic and political data, packing the lion’s share of likely Democratic voters into four of the state’s 16 districts – and tilting the other districts the Republicans’ way.

This left Summit County with two Republican and two Democratic representatives.

“Summit County, essentially, is almost large enough to have one representative, one Congressional representative. And the fact that we have four countywide is mind boggling," said Ohio state Rep. Emilia Sykes said. She represents most of Akron in the Ohio House. 

She said the way the congressional map is drawn fractures an area that voted mostly Democratic in the last presidential election.

"It is very telling that the goal here is to pack certain types of voters so that they aren’t competitive with others.”

She said lawmakers are picking their voters instead of voters picking their lawmakers.

“In the end you know you’re simply there as a guest and you don’t have equal power or rights.”

The map is scheduled to be drawn again after the 2020 Census. If nothing changes, the party that controls Ohio’s House and Senate and the governor’s office – turbocharged with even more sophisticated ways of analyzing voter behavior – will determine where the lines go.  

But it’s increasingly likely something will change as both state lawmakers and voter advocacy groups are developing alternatives to the map-making process to put before voters next year.

Who designed Ohio's Congressional map?

  • After the 2010 Census, Ohio got 16 congressional seats (seats in the U.S. House of Representatives).
  • Ohio's House of Representatives has 99 districts; Ohio's State Senate is has 33 (seats in the Ohio Legislature).
  • In Ohio, congressional district boundaries are set by the state Legislature. State legislative district lines are drawn by a politician commission.
  • For more on Ohio's map-making, click here to get to Ballotpedia.org

Who represents Summit County?

Marcia Fudge
Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-11

Marcia Fudge

District: 11th

Residence: Warrensville Heights

Age; 65

Party: Democrat

Race: African-American

Tenure: Since 2008

Margin of 2016 win: 61 percent

Dave Joyce
Rep. Dave Joyce, R-14

Dave Joyce  

District 14th

Residence: Russell Township (Geauga County)

Age: 60

Party Republican

Race: White

Tenure: Since 2013

Margin of 2016 win: 25 percent

photo of Tim Ryan
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13

Tim Ryan

District: 13th

Residence: Niles

Age: 44

Race: White

Party: Democrat

Tenure: Since 2013

Margin of 2016 win: 36 percent

Jim Renacci
Rep. Jim Renacci, R-16

Jim Renacci

District: 16th

Residence: Wadsworth

Age: 59

Race: White

Party: Republican

Tenure: Since 2011

Margin of 2016 win: 31 percent  

Our series Gerrymandering: Shading the Lines:

  • Today: Summit County has four Congressional districts and no member of Congress to call its own
  • Tuesday: Snakes, ducks and toilet bowls: How's Ohio shape its congressional districts?
  • Wednesday: How'd Ohio's most liberal town end up represented by one of the nation's most conservative congressmen?
  • Thursday: Pressure builds to change how Ohio draws its map
  • Friday: Other states offer other models for Ohio
Mark Arehart joined the award-winning WKSU news team as its arts/culture reporter in 2017. Before coming to Northeast Ohio, Arehart hosted Morning Edition and covered the arts scene for Delaware Public Media. He previously worked for KNKX in Seattle, Kansas Public Radio, and KYUK in Bethel, Alaska.