Ohio redistricting issue likely this fall as group turns in more signatures than needed

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — U-Hauls backed in and out of a freight loading dock behind Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office in downtown Columbus on Monday, delivering stacks of boxes filled with paper petitions from across the state.

The petitions contain signatures from Ohioans in all 88 counties who want to change the redistricting process.

It takes months and lots of money to mount a successful effort to make the ballot in Ohio. The group Citizens Not Politicians delivered more than 730,000 signatures to put an anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendment in front of voters. That’s almost double the more than 414,000 valid signatures they need.

Two people unload boxes of signatures for a redistricting initiative from a U-haul.
Anti-gerrymandering group Citizens Not Politicians drops off petitions to make the November ballot. [Daniel Konik | Statehouse News Bureau]
The anti-gerrymandering coalition started collecting signatures in early December 2023. Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said it was a massive effort.

“We had thousands of volunteers in every county in the state, going to farmers markets and festivals and door-to-door to collect signatures and talk to Ohio voters,” Miller said.

After signatures were delivered, about 400 backers of the measure rallied at the Ohio Statehouse. Rev. Michael Harrison of the Union Baptist Church in Youngstown told the crowd he believes it’s the time to reform redistricting.

“The time for change is now. We can no longer allow politicians to manipulate our districts for their own gain. It’s time to put the power back in the hands of the people where it belongs. Our faith calls us to stand up for justice and equality. Gerrymandering is a moral failure and must be corrected,” Harrison said.

Former Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, authored the proposed amendment and she’s leading the charge to pass it.

“Seven times seven times, my colleagues on the Supreme Court, Ohio Supreme Court, and I issued bipartisan rulings finding as a politician, drawn maps were unconstitutional, and seven times the politicians thumbed their nose at the citizens and trampled on the rule of law and imposed gerrymandered maps on our voters,” O’Connor said.

The amendment will face opposition

Sen. President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said last week that he plans to oppose the amendment.

“First, the individuals who are going to be deciding what the district maps are, how we figure out who that it’s. It’s almost impossible to know who that is. 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 in a 32 page, single-spaced document,” Huffman said.

Huffman said there’s another reason voters should reject the plan—the cost.

“The Constitution says we have to pay them. That’s a real problem. What if they decide, well, you know, we want to hire these folks and we’re going to pay them half a million bucks apiece, and we’re going to need a staff of ten people. We have to pay them. That’s what the constitution of the state of Ohio will say that. So there’s a lot of more, detail. But basically what I would say is no accountability, no restrictions on how you can draw districts and no, no financial accountability,” Huffman said.

A large crowd gathers outside the statehouse in support of a redistricting initiative.
Hundreds attend a rally in the Ohio Statehouse atrium for an anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendment proposed by Citizens Not Politicians. [Sarah Donaldson | Statehouse News Bureau]
O’Connor said that’s a mistruth that’s being spread.

“Seven million. Okay. That dollar amount is related to the amount of money that was spent in 2022 by the legislature, by the redistricting commission, in fighting for the seven unconstitutional maps. And we are not going to exceed that by one penny. So there is a cap on the amount of money that will be spent for this process of redistricting. So he should take some comfort in that, that we follow their lead. and, came up with a dollar amount that obviously they thought was reasonable in their efforts in 2022,” O’Connor said.

Ohio voters will likely be the ones to decide what is reasonable this November if the petitions are certified.

LaRose’s office has about three weeks to determine the validity of each signature. Signatures on another proposal, to raise the minimum wage, are coming Wednesday, meaning the office will have its hands full.