Watch a previous report on the proposed constitutional amendment to establish an independent redistricting commission in the video player above.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A group aiming to end partisan gerrymandering has taken the first step to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot — for a second time.
Nearly two weeks after its original petition summary was rejected, on Tuesday the coalition Citizens Not Politicians filed a revised summary of a proposed amendment that would overhaul Ohio’s redistricting process. The group, led by former Ohio Supreme Court justices, seeks to establish a 15-member independent redistricting commission to replace the current bipartisan commission made of state elected officials.
After the group filed its initial summary in mid-August, Attorney General Dave Yost rejected the summary, pointing to “vague” and “misleading” language as well as inconsistencies between the amendment summary and language of the amendment itself. Like for its first attempt, Citizens Not Politicians had to collect at least 1,000 signatures from voters to send the language to the Attorney General’s office.
“We made adjustments in response to the Attorney General’s guidance and refiled our summary of the petition along with thousands of signatures from everyday Ohioans who understand that the current politician-run system is broken because it allows politicians and lobbyists to manipulate voting districts to protect their interests,” coalition spokesperson Chris Davey said in a statement. “It’s time to put citizens, not politicians, in charge and to require a process that is open and maps that are fair.”
The 15-member commission created by the amendment would consist of five Democrats, five Republicans and five independent members. People with significant political influence in the past six years – including former and current elected officials, former campaign workers, registered lobbyists and large political donors – would be barred from serving on the commission.
The group has put forward the proposal as an answer to a years-long fight among state officials on the Ohio Redistricting Commission to draw fair maps.
The current redistricting commission is made of two elected officials from each party and the governor, secretary of state and auditor. Ohioans overwhelmingly voted to create the bipartisan commission for state legislative races in 2015, followed by 75% of voters in 2018 approving the commission’s drawing of U.S. congressional districts, to combat partisan bias in map drawing. As in all states, Ohio must go through a redistricting process every decade, following the release of the U.S. Census.
Unlike federal gerrymandering laws, Ohio law prohibits the commission from drawing maps that unduly favor one political party. That requirement, however, did not stop the Republican-dominated redistricting commission from putting forth a handful of maps the Ohio Supreme Court found improperly diluted Democrat voting power.
After each court decision, the redistricting commission was ordered to draw new maps. In the absence of a fairly drawn district map and with May 2022 primaries inching closer, a panel of federal judges ordered the implementation of unconstitutional maps in order to run the election.
When rejecting the original summary, Yost described multiple discrepancies between the petition summary and the language of the proposed amendment. In one instance, the petition summary stated that the amendment will outline criteria for determining a person’s political party affiliation, but the amendment did not include such criteria.
The refiling comes a week before the Ohio Redistricting Commission is slated to meet to draw new maps ahead of the November election, as was ordered by the panel of federal judges. In a letter to state lawmakers and members of the commission, Secretary of State Frank LaRose cautioned that new maps should be finalized by Sept. 22 to account for “the possibility of litigation,” should the maps be challenged. New maps must be presented to boards of elections by Nov. 6 — the day before Election Day.
Yost has 10 days to review the petition summary and either forward it to the Ohio Ballot Board or send Citizens Not Politicians back to the drawing board.