Ohio redistricting amendment reform summary rejected again, commission meeting canceled
The Friday morning meeting for the Ohio Redistricting Commission has been canceled. It’s supposed to have Ohio House and Senate maps approved by a week from Friday.
And for the second time, the attorney general has rejected language for a 2024 constitutional amendment to give the power to draw lawmakers’ district maps to a commission of 15 citizens.
Republican Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said in his letter to the group Citizens Not Politicians that their summary on petitions to gather signatures for their amendment has what he calls a critical omission.
"The summary fails to fairly and truthfully describe the amendment’s bifurcated definition of political “affiliation” as applied to commission members versus panel members," writes Yost. He said the summary doesn't note that political affiliation rules that apply to citizen commissioners, who can't be current or former politicians or paid partisans, don't apply to the panel that selects them, who would be retired partisan judges.
"The key element to this new system is bipartisanship – both on the screening panel and on the commission. In fact, the foundation of the entire system is rooted in the tempering of political power and influence with a precise balance of political or non-political affiliated members," Yost wrote. "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."
Citizens Not Politicians, which includes former Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, said it's disappointed and frustrated, but it will try again.
"We adjusted our summary language as the Attorney General requested on the first submission, and we know our summary language was accurate. But we will collect new signatures to refile again," the group said in a statement. "The people of Ohio are fed up with our broken redistricting system. It's long past time to put citizens, not politicians, in charge of map drawing, require that maps be fair, and require that maps be drawn in an open and transparent process that protects voters.”
At almost the same time as Yost's decision came out, Gov. Mike DeWine's office announced the Ohio Redistricting Commission meeting set for Friday morning is postponed. His office said legislative leaders didn’t inform him of who will be the co-chairs of the panel, which will draw new maps for Ohio House and Senate districts.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled the current maps were unconstitutionally gerrymandered last year, but they were put in place by a federal court only for the 2022 election.
The co-chair vacancies delayed the start of the first Ohio Redistricting Commission meeting Wednesday and forced it to be quickly recessed after commissioners were sworn in. House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hills) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) must appoint the Republican co-chair, and haven't been able to come to an agreement. Huffman is running for the House next year and is expected to challenge Stephens as speaker if he wins and Stephens is re-elected.
A spokesman for Huffman said in a statement: "Channels of communication remain open and we are confident this will be resolved with plenty of time to approve new district maps for the General Assembly."
Ohio Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said in a statement: “The Ohio Redistricting Commission is no place to play out a proxy war for the next Republican House speaker. Leader Russo and I continue to stand ready to serve the voters of Ohio to draw fair districts, and certainly hope we can do so as soon as possible.”
Secretary of State Frank LaRose, one of the five Republicans on the panel, has said the maps should be approved by Sept. 22 to ensure there's time for preparation and lawsuits before the March primary.