COLUMBUS, OH — JULY 01: Retired Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor speaks to supporters at the Citizens Not Politicians rally, July 1, 2024, at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal)

BY:  Ohio Capital Journal

Reporting more than 731,000 signatures submitted to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office, Citizens Not Politicians said it cleared a massive hurdle in their plan to reform the state’s redistricting process by replacing politicians with a citizen commission.

The group hoping to get a citizen-led redistricting commission inserted as an amendment to the Ohio Constitution was required to collect 413,487 signatures by July 3 in order to qualify for the Nov. 5 general election. That number accounts for 10% of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, a threshold state law requires for ballot initiatives.

Ohio also requires petitions to receive at least 5% of the vote in at least 44 counties. Citizens Not Politicians said it did this in 57 counties, while also collecting signatures in all 88 counties in the state.

During a rally celebrating the submission of the signatures on Monday, retired Republican Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor told a crowd of hundreds in the Statehouse atrium that the initiative received the third highest signature total the state has seen in more than a century. She said it was “one of the most widely supported citizen-initiated constitutional amendments in Ohio’s history.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, let me let you in on a little secret,” she told supporters who attended the rally. “This amendment will pass. We will prevail.”

The signatures will now be verified by the Secretary of State’s Office, to filter out possible duplicate or invalid voter signatures, before a final count will be released.

O’Connor joined in on the redistricting reform process after being chief justice of a supreme court that rejected six different maps adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission, a commission made up of elected officials.

The current seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission includes the Ohio House Speaker and Ohio Senate President, along with the governor, secretary of state, auditor of state, and two minority party legislative leaders. If approved by the voters, the amendment would replace the politician commission with the Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission, which would have 15 members, five matching the political party of the governor at the time, five from the party of the gubernatorial candidate who received the second-most votes in the most recent election, and five unaffiliated members.

The most recent map adopted by the current redistricting commission was cleared by the state’s highest court after O’Connor left due to age limits, and the head chair was taken up by Republican Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy.

Ohio’s congressional map passed by the commission was also ruled unconstitutional, but challengers to the map chose to step back from legal fights to focus on redistricting reform.

The rally and the reason for it brought out all sorts, from education and nurses association members to bricklayers and religious leaders.

Maria Montanez is a part of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative’s Building Freedom Ohio, which works with residents who have been a part of the criminal justice system.

Montanez said she is a convicted felon, but one who served her time while also obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in business administration.

“When I got out of prison, I wasn’t given a fair chance,” Montanez said. “Even though I came out with an accolade and prepared myself to be a productive citizen within the community, I’m still looked at as a felon.”

She wants to see changes to collateral sanctions in Ohio, and thinks making changes to voting rules and making voting districts representative can help make that happen.

“There’s plenty of people that look like me, feel like me and are living the same civil debt that I am living today,” she said.

For Cleveland-area school nurse David Spanos, changing the way redistricting is done could help bring more funding to public schools, and lift fair partisan representation into reality, rather than map manipulations meant to help incumbents hold on to power.

“I don’t think Ohio would be a Republican state if it weren’t for gerrymandering,” Spanos said.

Cincinnati resident and salon owner Desirae Futel works hard to help her customers learn where and when to vote, and what their voice means when it comes to change in politics.

“Gerrymandering has long silenced communities like mine, but today, we stand to change that,” she told the crowd.

With the signatures now submitted, the campaign to get voters to the ballot in support of the measure begins. That strategy includes battling against those who oppose the new redistricting plan, according to O’Connor.

“They’re going to scheme and spread disinformation, and try and muddy the waters and confuse the voters,” she said.

But if the motivation encapsulated in the Statehouse atrium spreads to the rest of Ohio voters, Montanez said the votes will go their way.

“It’s in the numbers that we move this, it’s in the capacity, it’s not just one person,” she said.

Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.


Your comments can change our community

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.