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Groups gathering signatures to get citizen-led statewide redistricting commission on the 2024 ballot

Members of the Ohio Senate Government Oversight Committee hear testimony on a new map of state congressional districts.
Julie Carr Smyth
/
AP
Members of the Ohio Senate Government Oversight Committee hear testimony on a new map of state congressional districts on Nov. 16, 2021, at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. The Ohio Supreme Court will take yet another look at the legality of the state's congressional districts after the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, June 30, 2023, set aside a ruling striking down the districts and ordered further consideration of the case.

Groups are starting to collect signatures to get a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 2024 ballot that would scrap Ohio's current system for drawing legislative and congressional district maps and create a new one.

The amendment, if it passes, would scrap the Ohio Redistricting Commission, which was created in 2018 when Ohio voters passed a constitutional amendment with over 70% of the vote. The amendment would then create a new citizen-led redistricting commission with 15 members split evenly between registered Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

Petitioners, including members of the grassroots political organization Indivisible Central Ohio, asked people entering and exiting Whetstone Library in Clintonville to sign a petition that needs 1,000 signatures to get ballot language considered by the Ohio Attorney General's Office. Petitioners declined to give specifics about the amendment, but did disclose the title and top-line facts about the amendment.

The title of the amendment reads "An amendment to replace the current politician-run redistricting process with a citizen-led commission required to create fair state legislative and congressional districts through a more open and independent system."

Some people walked past the petitioners refusing to sign, but many did stop to listen to what the amendment was about and gave their signatures.

Clintonville resident Mary Collins was one of the people who signed the petition at the library Friday. She said Ohioans are ready to change the system yet again to make maps more fair.

"Gerrymandering is so bad for people of both parties. I'd like to live in what I felt like was a real representative democracy," she said.

The current commission had a rocky two years following the release of the 2020 U.S. Census. Ohio, like all other states, was required to redistrict all congressional and state legislative districts to be reapportioned appropriately according to new population counts.

Republican members of the redistricting commission, over the objections of Democratic members of the commission, passed maps that the Ohio Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional multiple times.

Collins said she was "incensed" that the Ohio Legislature blatantly ignored the Ohio Supreme Court. She also signed the initial petition to get the 2018 measure on the ballot.

She also said taking the legislature out of the process initially made sense to her, but now doesn't believe that's the case if the legislature isn't going to listen to the demands of citizens.

"The game-playing and the disrespect to citizens is infuriating to me," she said.

The unconstitutional maps are still in place and are gerrymandered to give an edge to congressional Republicans and members of the Ohio General Assembly, according to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The intent behind the 2018 measure was to prevent gerrymandering, but the Republicans in charge of the commission defied that despite the overwhelming vote in favor of the measure that year.

Because the petitioners declined to comment or reveal further details about the amendment, it is unclear how certain processes of the commission would work.

Collins said Ohioans would support this and that the state rejecting statewide Issue 1 on Tuesday — which would have made it more difficult to pass such amendments — shows Ohioans don't trust the current legislature and want a change.

If the Ohio Attorney General approves the ballot language, petitioners would then need to gather thousands more signatures to qualify for the ballot. The number must equal 10% of the total vote cast for the office of governor at the last gubernatorial election and be obtained from at least 44 of the 88 counties in Ohio.

Indivisible Central Ohio and Common Cause Ohio are looking for more signatures in central Ohio this weekend through Sunday.

The other locations include the Whetstone Library, the Hilliard Library and farmers markets in Worthington, Clintonville, Delaware, Dublin and Westerville on Saturday.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.