Ohio Attorney General clears third attempt for 2024 anti-gerrymandering amendment proposal
A ballot counter machine. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)
An Ohio anti-gerrymandering ballot amendment proposal for 2024 that has been in limbo after two different rejections from the Attorney General’s Office has now been certified to go forward after its third attempt.
Attorney General Dave Yost on Monday certified the petition language for an amendment that would create an “Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission” and amend the constitutional clauses that pertain to redistricting, confirming that the submitted summary was “a fair and truthful statement of the proposed constitutional amendment.”
The amendment proposal creates a 15-member redistricting commission including Republican, Democratic, and independent Ohio citizen commissioners, along with keeping “former politicians, political party officials and lobbyists” from sitting on the commission, according to the amendment language.
The group that created the proposal, Citizens Not Politicians, seeks to keep the commission in an “open and independent process” while creating “fair and impartial districts by making it unconstitutional to draw voting districts that discriminate against or favor any political party or individual politician.”
Five of the six versions of Statehouse district maps that were adopted by the current Ohio Redistricting Commission, which is made up of five GOP elected officials and two Democratic legislative leaders, have been ruled unconstitutionally partisan gerrymanders by the Ohio Supreme Court. The five that were rejected were under the court led by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who left the court because of age limits and has now taken up the cause of future anti-gerrymandering reform with Citizens Not Politicians.
The sixth version was just adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission last week, representing the first time in the two years that redistricting has been conducted under the current rules that the maps received affirmative votes from the two Democrats on the commission.
It has not seen legal action, but groups who were parties in the lawsuits that led to the last five map rejections say that option is still on the table.
O’Connor, for her part, released a statement as part of the redistricting reform coalition discrediting the new Statehouse maps as a “bipartisan gerrymander” that only proved the need for reform of the process, reformed already by voters in 2015 and 2018 in hopes of avoiding extreme gerrymandering and laying enforcement of constitutionality at the feet of the state’s highest court.
“From waiting more than a year to get to work, to holding hearings in remote locations at times when working people are earning their living and can’t participate, to voting for their own political interests,” O’Connor said in a Sept. 27 statement. “We have seen once again, that politicians — Democrats and Republicans both — can’t be trusted to draw fair maps in an open and transparent process.”
Ohio’s U.S. Congressional district map was also ruled unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court under O’Connor’s leadership, a dispute that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, before returning to the state supreme court.
Ultimately, congressional map challengers yielded to the passing of time, asking the court to dismiss the challenge due to the likelihood the 2024 election would pass without further legal intervention, and in hopes the new ballot initiative might bring the underlying change needed for the process to bring fair districts.
The proposed anti-gerrymandering amendment was submitted twice before, on Aug. 14 and Sept. 5. In his second, mid-September rejection of the language, Yost said a review of the proposal “identified a critical omission that would mislead a potential signer as to the actual scope and effect of the proposed amendment.”
In that rejection, the state attorney general said political affiliation within the redistricting commission and a panel who choses the commission members wasn’t clearly stated, which would be important as bipartisanship would be a “key element” of the new redistricting process, according to Yost’s Sept. 14 letter of rejection.
“Thus, how political affiliation is determined, who makes those determinations and what rules apply are critical issues that must be included in a summary of the proposed amendment if it is to be fair and truthful,” Yost wrote.
In the first rejection, released on Aug. 23, Yost said “omissions and misstatements that, as a whole, would mislead a potential signer as to the actual scope and effect of the proposed amendment” were identified.
The two rejections sparked frustration for advocates of the anti-gerrymandering effort, especially considering a former Ohio Supreme Court Chief justice was a part of the petition drafting process.
Chris Davey, spokesperson for Citizens Not Politicians, denied arguments by Yost that the previous submissions were inaccurate or untruthful, but said the group made “technical adjustments” requested by the attorney general.
Fellow anti-gerrymandering advocates praised the progress for the ballot initiative on Monday. Jen Miller, head of the League of Women Voters’ Ohio chapter, said group supports the amendment “because it is high time to ban politicians and lobbyists from rigging legislative maps for their own short-sighted, partisan interests.”
“Hopefully very soon, our petition volunteers will be in communities across the Buckeye State to collect signatures and educate voters,” Miller told the Capital Journal on Monday.
Now that the Attorney General’s Office has certified the summary, the petition moves to the Ohio Ballot Board for approval, which would allow petitioners to collect signatures of support from registered Ohio voters and move the measure to ballots.
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