Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and the rest of the Ohio Ballot Board approve the language of a proposed anti-gerrymandering amendment that is likely to appear on the ballot next year. (Photo by Marty Schladen, Ohio Capital Journal.)

Signature gathering can proceed

BY:  Ohio Capital Journal

Activists who hope to pass an anti-gerrymandering amendment to the Ohio Constitution can now begin gathering the nearly half-million signatures on the need to get the measure on the November 2024 ballot after the amendment was approved as a single issue by the Ohio Ballot Board Thursday.

Without much ceremony, the board unanimously agreed that the proposed amendment pertains to a single subject, which is required under Ohio law.

The timing of the approval is significant because early voting on two other measures that are on this year’s ballot started yesterday (Thursday.) Voting has begun on Issue 1, a constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights, and Issue 2, a voter-initiated statute legalizing recreational marijuana. The general election for those measures is Nov. 7.

Activists trying to get the anti-gerrymandering amendment on next year’s ballot have to gather about 415,000 verified signatures of registered voters. And because of a relatively high rate of rejections in previous efforts, they want to gather hundreds of thousands more than that.

They say that having the summary language approved now enables them to do their work at county boards of election, where registered voters are gathering to cast ballots on this year’s abortion and marijuana measures. Petition circulators will also be able to work voter-rich environments near polling places on Election Day.

The approval comes in the nick of time for the activists. Attorney General Dave Yost twice rejected the summary language for the petitions as not adequately reflecting the proposed amendment itself before approving it on its third attempt.

Ohio is regarded as one of the most extremely gerrymandered states in the country. While Donald Trump carried the state with less than 54% of the vote in 2020, Republicans control 68% of seats in the state House, 78% in the state Senate and 66% of the state’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

That’s despite the fact that in 2015 and 2018, amendments to curb extreme partisan gerrymandering in the legislature and Congress both passed with more than 70% of the vote.

After the 2020 Census, the Republican-dominated Redistricting Commission created by those amendments seven times ignored rulings by a bipartisan majority of the Ohio Supreme Court. The rulings said the districts the commission had drawn violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions of those same amendments.

So now Ohio’s lawmakers are representing districts that the state’s highest court has ruled unconstitutional.

Former Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, voted with the court’s three Democrats in ruling that the districts were unconstitutional, but she was forced to retire last year because of her age.

Now she’s working with anti-gerrymandering activists to try to get the latest proposed amendment on next year’s ballot. It attempts to eliminate power grabs when district lines are drawn by creating an independent commission to draw them. That’s in contrast to the current one, which is composed entirely of elected officials.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose voted with the other Republicans on the Redistricting Commission in support of the current, unconstitutional maps. In his role as head of the Ballot Board, on Thursday he voted to approve the latest proposed anti-gerrymandering amendment. But he emphasized that it was only a vote on whether its language regarded a single subject.

“I will remind you again that we are not here today to debate the merits of the proposal, but only whether it constitutes a single proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution,” he said.

But Sen. Paula Hicks-Hudson, D-Toledo, commented on the merits, anyway.

“I’d like to recognize and support the citizens of Ohio who have moved to create a fair opportunity… for their districts to be drawn to reflect all the things Ohioans believe are important and to have a government that is responsive to the citizens of the state of Ohio,” she said.

After that, LaRose again emphasized that the vote wasn’t on the merits of the proposed anti-gerrymandering amendment.

Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He’s won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.


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