Over 731K signatures submitted to state in latest push for redistricting reform

State to verify signatures before allowing citizen redistricting amendment question on ballot

An Ohio political group hand delivered more than 731,000 petition signatures to the secretary of state’s doorstep on Monday with the hope that it’s enough to allow Ohioans to vote on redistricting reform this November.

Signature verification by the state is set to follow. At least 413,487 of those signatures need to be valid, and 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties need to be represented by at least 5% of its registered voters, in order to get on the ballot. The question would need to win a simple majority in November in order to be adopted into the state constitution.

“My goal is to ensure that representation is fair,” Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio told this news outlet Monday outside the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office. “What we’ve learned in these decades of extreme gerrymandering in Ohio is the only way that can happen is if politicians and lobbyists are taken out of the equation.”

The League of Women Voters is a notable backer of Citizens Not Politicians, the group behind the proposed constitutional amendment that would scrap Ohio’s current redistricting process — which was instituted by voters through various rounds of constitutional amendments in 2015 and 2018 — and replace it with a 15-member Citizen Redistricting Commission.

The new commission, which backers insist would be nonpartisan and disconnected from politicians’ interests would consist of five Republicans, five Democrats and five unaffiliated registered voters. The panel would meet more often than the Ohio Redistricting Commission is required to and would be bound to do more actions, such as the actual map drawing, in public — a significant diversion from the current process.

“They’re not party operatives, they’re not people who have relationships with elected officials, they’re not people whose family members work for elected officials,” said retired Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican who has become the face of the citizen-initiated amendment. “This is as pure a system as you could possibly get to have citizens, not politicians, draft these maps.”

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Credit: Avery Kreemer

The system would kick in with a redistricting process in 2025, if passed, before defaulting to a 10-year cycle that corresponds with the U.S. Census.

The proposed amendment has garnered pointed criticism from the Republican politicians who control supermajorities in both the Ohio House and the Senate and hold every statewide position of the executive branch, and therefore control Ohio’s current map making process.

At the same time, it has drawn considerable support from Democratic politicians who have had little say over what maps get implemented.

Under the current system, the Ohio Constitution contains guidelines for how the state’s House, Senate, and U.S. Congressional district maps ought to be drawn, and then those maps are drawn largely behind closed doors and voted on by a bipartisan, but often lopsided, panel of politicians on the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

One considerable difference between the new proposal and the current system involves how the commission is told to deal with incumbent legislators. In the current system, incumbent legislators cannot be drawn into the same districts, which restricts the flexibility the commission has in drawing the maps. Under the new proposal, the hometowns of incumbent legislators will not be considered, which could result in incumbent legislators getting drawn out of their districts completely.

Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, told reporters Friday that he worried that the citizen redistricting commission would lack accountability.

“I think that the people who are making an important decision like this ought to be elected officials who are accountable to the public, not unknown bureaucrats somewhere someplace and subject to whatever rules (are in) a 32-page, single spaced document,” Huffman said.

O’Connor pushed back against Huffman’s accountability concerns on Monday, recalling the seven times the Ohio Redistricting Commission passed maps that her Supreme Court judged to be unconstitutional. O’Connor sided with the bench’s Democrats in the court’s rulings before federal courts forced the state to temporarily implement an unconstitutional map in order to run the 2022 elections.

“As far as accountability, I don’t know where accountability is right now in the system we have, quite frankly,” O’Connor said. “They weren’t accountable to the citizens, they weren’t accountable to the Supreme Court, and you know what happened.”

The new proposal has two primary guidelines.

• The first says that the state legislature’s ratio of Democrats to Republicans cannot be more or less than 3% of how the state normally votes. So, if Ohioans vote for Republicans 55% of the time in a given look-back period, for example, the state’s maps could only favor Republicans in 52% to 58% of the districts.

• The second guideline says that the maps must preserve “communities of interest” within the same legislative districts to the highest level practicable. A community of interest could be anything from a township, city or county to less obvious distinctions, like areas that share similar “representational needs” based off of race, socioeconomic status, environment and more. Communities of interest cannot be based off of political affiliation.

These two new guidelines are not huge diversions from what the state is already working with and, as such, likely wouldn’t create a huge swing in favor of Democrats any time soon.

“That’s just the voter ratios, the way Ohio is built right now. Okay, so be it. Wherever the chips fall, that’s where they’re going to fall,” O’Connor said. “Let’s just have an independent, transparent, nonpartisan process in order to do it. That’s all we’re asking for, and who can be afraid of that?”

For more stories like this, sign up for our Ohio Politics newsletter. It’s free, curated, and delivered straight to your inbox every Thursday evening.

Avery Kreemer can be reached at 614-981-1422, on X, via email, or you can drop him a comment/tip with the survey below.

About the Author