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Reorganization group submits petitions for fall vote

Reorganization group submits petitions for fall vote

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — A group hoping to change the process for drawing boundaries between legislative and congressional districts will sign into law Monday to put their plan before voters this fall.

Citizens Not Politicians needs 413,487 valid petition signatures to get the constitutional amendment on the November ballot. The group said it will submit 731,000 signatures to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office on Monday. They have been collecting signatures for months.

Supporters of a proposal to create a new redistricting commission in Ohio are collecting signatures.
Elizabeth Grieser (center) and Amber Decker (right) collect signatures for Citizens Not Politicians at the Riffe Center in downtown Columbus. (Sarah Donaldson | Statehouse News Bureau)

Under the proposed amendment, a 15-member panel of five Democrats, five Republicans and five independents would form part of a new Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission. Lobbyists, party officials and politicians would not be allowed on the commission. The group is led by former Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, and former Justice Yvette McGee-Brown, a Democrat. Citizens Not Politicians spokesman Chris Davey said the current system allows politicians to choose their voters by manipulating districts to their advantage. And he pointed to the boundary-drawing process in 2022, when the Ohio Supreme Court ruled seven times that maps approved by the Ohio Redistricting Commission were unconstitutional.

Ultimately, a federal court allowed the maps to be used. And in 2023, the Ohio Supreme Court, on which O’Connor no longer sat, approved the maps for this year’s election. O’Connor had joined the court’s three Democrats in declaring the maps unconstitutional in 2022. She could not seek re-election because of the 70-year age limit for elected judges.

The panel would replace the Ohio Redisticting Commission, which consists of the governor, auditor, secretary of state and four state legislators. Although the purpose of the commission when voters approved it in 2015 was to give more power to the minority party, the result has been that Republicans in control of state government have dominated the map-drawing process.

The process used to draw the maps was plagued by controversy and confusion, as much of it was done by politicians, out of sight of the public. Davey said this change would require accountability in the process.

“The people of Ohio are smart. They know a rigged game when they see one,” Davey said. “And the politicians who pushed those unconstitutional maps on the voters of Ohio seven times in a row really motivated a lot of people to change this system.”

Currently, Republicans hold a 67-32 majority in the Ohio House of Representatives and a 26-7 majority in the Senate. Republicans also control Ohio’s congressional delegation, 10-5. Democrats have said Ohio’s maps are among the most rigged in the country. But Republicans have noted that the GOP has won in state elections, where districts are not a factor. Republicans have won 88 percent of statewide elections since 1994.

Republican leaders are already vowing to fight the amendment. Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), who helped draft the amendments that created and authorized the Ohio Redistricting Commission, will be among those working to thwart the overhaul.

“The people making such an important decision should be elected officials who are accountable to the public,” Huffman said.

The Republican majority ran a campaign last August that failed to convince Ohioans to make it much harder for voters to amend the Constitution by requiring 60 percent approval instead of a simple majority. In pushing for the higher threshold, Republicans had said they expected issues over redistricting and abortion to be raised.

Another attempt to block the redistricting amendment passed in the May special legislative session was a ban on voting campaign contributions by foreign nationals, including permanent lawful residents known as green card holders. A lawsuit filed last week alleged that the law violates the First Amendment right to free speech and conflicts with U.S. Supreme Court precedent by including green card holders.

Campaign finance filings show that Citizens Not Politicians has received funds from a progressive dark money group that counts a Swiss billionaire among its donors. Citizens Not Politicians reported $550,000 in contributions from the Sixteen Thirty Fund in its last filing in January. The Sixteen Thirty Fund is a 501(c)4 nonprofit that has received contributions from Hansjörg Wyss, who lives in Wyoming but is originally from Switzerland. It is unclear whether he is a green card holder.