A redistricting reform amendment campaign has until July to collect hundreds of thousands of voter signatures. How are things going?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With a month to go until a pivotal state deadline, the campaign behind a proposed redistricting reform amendment says it expects to collect more than enough signatures that it needs to qualify for the ballot in November.

Chris Davey, a spokesperson for Citizens Not Politicians, declined to say exactly how many signatures the group has collected. But he said this week the group is running ahead of schedule.

“We are collecting thousands of signatures every day. And we will be handing in many more than the required amount,” Davey said.

Citizens Not Politicians’ amendment would replace the Ohio Redistricting Commission, a panel of seven elected officials that’s currently controlled by Republicans, with a 15-member citizen’s panel made up of equal parts Republicans, Democrats and political independents. Politicos, including elected officials, party operatives and lobbyists, and their immediate family members, would be barred from serving on the new commission.

To qualify for the ballot, amendment campaigns must submit more than 400,000 valid voter signatures, including a minimum number from 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties, to the state by a July 3 deadline. Complying with the requirement is costly and time intensive. But there are signs the group is likely to qualify.

The redistricting campaign is well-funded enough to have hired professional political signature firms, according to campaign finance reports, while Davey said it also has thousands of volunteers gathering signatures. A campaign website that lists upcoming signature drives includes events around the state organized by organized labor groups like the AFL-CIO and at settings like pride festivals, breweries and public libraries.

There’s also another ballot-issue campaign targeting the November election: an amendment that would increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour for all workers, up from $10.45 per hour for non-tipped workers and $5.25 tipped workers. The campaign backing the amendment, Raise the Wage Ohio, has disclosed spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on signature gatherers, a sign that it stands a good chance of qualifying for the ballot.

Backers of the redistricting effort include labor unions, the Ohio Democratic Party and Maureen O’Connor, a Republican who as a member of the Ohio Supreme Court cast the decisive swing vote in seven court rulings rejecting Republican-drawn district maps as illegally gerrymandered ahead of the 2021 and 2022 elections.

Republicans ultimately ended up ignoring the rulings, but the districts ultimately went into effect anyway after lengthy legal battles. The congressional district lines remain in effect, while the Ohio Redistricting Commission in a bipartisan, unanimous vote, approved tweaked versions of the state district lines last year.

If the amendment passes, the current districts will be redrawn in 2025.

There is not yet any formal opposition campaign. But many top state Republicans have come out in opposition to the amendment. And state records show a prominent Republican political firm founded a campaign PAC in October called Ohioans for Fair Districts — the same name used by a redistricting reform campaign a decade ago tied to the Democratic Party — although the PAC suspended operations last month without accepting any contributions or spending any money.

This week, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine — who has not yet taken a position on the amendment — signed a Republican-backed law change barring ballot issue campaigns from accepting direct or indirect contributions from non-U.S. citizens. The law is meant to target the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a national liberal dark-money group with financial ties to a Swiss billionaire that’s contributed to Citizens Not Politicians after spending more than $10 million last year helping pass a November ballot issue that added abortion rights to the state constitution.

Davey said the redistricting campaign is not concerned the law will impede its work.

“Ohio’s career politicians are just trying to distract from the issue of gerrymandering,” Davey said.

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