The Republican members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission talk before a 2023 public hearing on statehouse district maps. (Photo: Susan Tebben, OCJ)
The newest measure to change the Ohio Constitution and reform the redistricting process in Ohio has cleared its most recent hurdle: a typo.
The Ohio Ballot Board met Monday, quickly certifying a proposed constitutional amendment that would “replace the current politician-run redistricting process.” The board’s only role is to determine if an amendment follows the legal requirements that the measure only contain one amendment to the state’s constitution.
The certification came as no surprise, since the board had previously certified the amendment in October. This time around, the re-certification was needed after the creator of the proposed amendment, anti-gerrymandering group Citizens Not Politicians, noticed a typo in one of the deadlines mentioned in the amendment.
Attorney Don McTigue was present at Monday’s ballot board meeting, and said that nothing about the intent of the amendment changes with the correction of the error.
The amendment also went through multiple rounds of revisions, after Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost rejected the measure twice, saying amendment reviewers identified “omissions and misstatements” that the AG said would “mislead a potential signer as to the actual scope and effect of the proposed amendment.”
The amendment would replace the current redistricting process, also created through a constitutional amendment, and would eliminate the Ohio Redistricting Commission as it stands now, a seven-member panel made up of all elected officials, five from the GOP majority and two Democrats.
The commission would be replaced with a “citizen-led commission,” chosen by a bipartisan panel. If approved by the voters, the amendment would create 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 amendment also specifically lays out anti-gerrymandering mechanisms that have been a sticking point throughout the last two years, as the Ohio Redistricting Commission tumbled through the process of six different statehouse district maps and two congressional maps, all but one of which (the most recent statehouse districts) has been rejected as unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court.
The statehouse districts adopted in September by the current commission are being challenged in a case before the state’s highest court, but no decision has been made.
The ORC has been rife with chaos and uncertainty as well, as the last two years contained multiple line-up changes, arguments over deadlines and lack of action, and even a stumbled start to the most recent adoption process.
In the new amendment proposal, the citizen-led commission would have to create a redistricting plan with political party proportions that “correspond closely to statewide partisan preferences of the voters of Ohio,” and the commission has to state how the districts’ partisan divide was determined.
The group who wrote the measure defines “correspond closely” as no more than a 3-percentage-point difference between the redistricting plans and the statewide voter preferences, “unless arithmetically impossible.”
The Ohio Supreme Court holds the jurisdiction for all court challenges of redistricting plans in the amendment, just as it does in the current system. That system was criticized, however, for not creating enough of an enforcement mechanism. The state supreme court rejected seven different district maps, but did not hold commission members in contempt for missing deadlines.
The commission also did not receive any consequences for eschewing a proposal from court-ordered mapmakers, brought in on the taxpayers’ dime, and passing a map that was nearly identical to a previous, unconstitutional statehouse map.
In the new process, if approved by voters, “special masters” would be chosen to “review the record before the commission and hold a public hearing” if a court challenged is filed against a redistricting plan. Then, a report must be issued “as to whether the commission abused its discretion in its determination that the adopted plan complies with the partisan fairness criteria required by the amendment for a redistricting plan.”
Once the report from the special masters is released, objections to the report can be filed with the Ohio Supreme Court, who will ultimately rule on the maps.
The commission would have an appropriation from the Ohio General Assembly of $7 million for 2025 redistricting under the new measure, plus more for the bipartisan panel who chooses the commission.
The cost of the special masters would come from the Ohio Supreme Court’s budget, according to the amendment language.
Signature collection for the initiative can begin again, now that the state ballot board has re-approved the measure. According to Citizens Not Politicians, the group must collect 413,487 valid Ohio voter signatures by July 3, 2024, to qualify for the general election next year.