Proposed Ohio constitutional amendment seeks to end gerrymandering after legislature defied courts
Photo by: Fair Districts Coalition / Mia Lewis, courtesy of WEWS.
Ohio’s redistricting and gerrymandering drama could come to an end under a newly-proposed constitutional amendment.
The nonpartisan coalition Citizens Not Politicians has collected more than the 1,000 signatures they need to start the process of putting a constitutional amendment on the November 2024 ballot. In fact, just in a weekend, the group collected 7,300 from 31 different counties, according to spokesperson Chris Davey.
In 2021 and 2022, the Ohio Redistricting Commission ignored seven different bipartisan Ohio Supreme Court rulings against Statehouse and Congressional map proposals, eventually running out the clock to a point a split federal court ordered maps that had been declared unconstitutional to be used for the November 2022 election.
Sitting on the seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission are Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, Sec. of State Frank LaRose, and Auditor Keith Faber, as well as two lawmakers from each party in each chamber of the Ohio Statehouse.
“We can’t have politicians in charge of this,” state Sen. Kent Smith (D-Euclid) said.
In Ohio, lawmakers who can directly benefit from district and congressional maps are the ones who draw them. This isn’t fair, Smith said.
The majority of other states haven’t had the amount of map-drawing drama that Ohio has. Michigan, for example, has a nonpartisan independent citizen redistricting commission.
The new proposal creates the 15-member Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission (OCRC) made up of Republican, Democratic and independent citizens who broadly represent the different geographic areas and demographics of the state.
It bans current or former politicians, political party officials, lobbyists, and large political donors from sitting on the commission.
It requires fair and impartial districts by making it unconstitutional to draw voting districts that discriminate against or favor any political party or individual politician. It also mandates the commission to operate under an open and independent process.
“Crafting maps that reflect the actual political makeup of the state would be very beneficial to the citizens of the state,” Smith said.
Read the full amendment below:
The Ohio Redistricting Commission (ORC) is made up of seven spots. Two will always go to two Republicans and two to Democrats in the Statehouse. The three remaining seats include the governor, secretary of state and auditor.
Senate President Matt Huffman said in May that the leaders are gearing up to draw the maps.
“We would start in earnest after June 30, have hearings and all of the other negotiations and things that are to be done and to try to have a map by mid-September,” Huffman said.
The proposed reform is not needed or wanted, Huffman’s spokesperson John Fortney said.
“So-called citizen-led commissions are anything but that; they are proxy votes and puppets of partisan special interest groups,” Fortney said.
Ohioans passed amendments for anti-gerrymandering reform of Ohio Statehouse districts in 2015 with more than 71% of the vote, and for Congressional districts in 2018 with nearly 75% of the vote. Those reforms, however, ran through the state legislature, and left politicians in control over the process.
“Voters passed the amendments to the Constitution establishing Article 11 and Article 19, Fortney said. “Each limit splits and requires compact districts and an increased minority party vote to pass a ten-year map.”
Without bipartisan support, the current Ohio Redistricting Commission can pass four-year maps.
This system can still be exploited, voting rights advocates said.
In the November 2022 election under the maps declared unconstitutional, Ohio Republicans picked up three seats in the Ohio House and one in the Ohio Senate, expanding their supermajorities.
Looking at the competitiveness of the maps, the Ohio House map has a 54-46 GOP advantage, legal professors analyzed, and the Senate has an 18-15. Nearly 20 of the Democratic House districts and about 10 in the Senate are considered political toss-ups. None of the Republican districts are toss-ups.
In a one-on-one interview with former Republican Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor in December, she discussed how ruling seven separate times that GOP-backed redistricting maps were unconstitutional and gerrymandered earned scorn and resistance from the party that once championed her.
The GOP “mischaracterized what [redistricting reform] really was and how it would be administered,” O’Connor told OCJ/WEWS. “I don’t think the public would have bought it if that would have been understood.”
O’Connor had to retire under Ohio law due to her age, so now she is exchanging her spot on the bench for a spot in the political field.
“When politicians draw biased, often ridiculously-shaped districts to favor their own political interests, that’s gerrymandering,” she said in the OCRC press release. “Ohio is one of the country’s most gerrymandered states, and even today, is operating under maps deemed unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court. This proposal would end gerrymandering by empowering citizens, not politicians, to draw fair districts using an open and independent process.”
The Supreme Court called out Huffman for being the ringleader in ignoring anti-gerrymandering laws, but Huffman argued that the court was overstepping and being unclear.
The majority of the court repeatedly asked the GOP to stop submitting unconstitutional maps, re-sharing guidelines that show districts need to be competitive, but not just for Democratic seats.
In a one-on-one with Gov. Mike DeWine in November, he addressed the redistricting drama.
“If you look at the majority of Supreme Court decisions that have been handed down, they’ve made it more difficult, frankly,” the governor said.
DeWine said this goes directly against the original rules of competitiveness.
“I think that’s a problem, and I think sometimes that has been missed,” he added. “How do we fix that?”
The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court on the congressional map, sending it back for reconsideration, Fortney noted.
“The redistricting commission will soon convene to produce new maps for the House and Senate districts, the special interests want to play by a new set of rules drawn by a so-called citizen-led commission, which is code for proxy votes for D.C. special interests,” the spokesperson added.
Independent redistricting commissions are independent, Smith argued. The lawmaker is excited about the proposal and said it is long overdue.
“These (current) maps do not reflect the political makeup of the state,” he said.
The Attorney General has 10 days to determine if the petition and summary are a fair and truthful statement of the proposed constitutional amendment. Once the petition is certified, the AG forwards it to the Ohio Ballot Board, which has 10 days to determine if it contains only one constitutional amendment.
After Ballot Board certification, the AG must file a verified copy of the proposed constitutional amendment and summary, along with the AG’s certification, with the Ohio Secretary of State.
At that point, the petitioners may begin to collect the required 413,487 valid signatures of registered voters by July 3, 2024 to qualify for the 2024 Ohio General Election Ballot.
This article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
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