‘The way our districts are drawn is BS:’ Ohio redistricting effort moves toward fall ballot

Fed up with politicians manipulating maps to ensure reelection, a crowd of Ohio voters took a key step toward offering a redistricting alternative on the November ballot.

That alternative would replace Ohio’s current system for drawing congressional and legislative maps, which relies on elected officials, with a 15-member panel of Ohioans without close ties to politics. The campaign, called Citizens Not Politicians, delivered more than 731,000 signatures to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office Monday morning to make the fall ballot.

To make the November ballot, the campaign must submit 413,487 valid signatures from at least 44 counties by Wednesday. The Ohio Secretary of State’s office will review the list to ensure those who signed are registered to vote, their signatures are legible and various other technical requirements are met.

After dropping off signatures, former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor, along with a pastor, a retired bricklayer and a small business owner rallied Ohioans frustrated with the state of state politics. They contend that if members of Congress and state lawmakers had more competitive elections, they would be more responsive to residents.

Ted Linscott, the retired bricklayer from Athens, said Appalachians tell it like it is: “When we see BS, we call BS and the way our districts are drawn is BS.”

Last year’s elections offered several prime examples. Ohio voters defeated a constitutional amendment that would have made it harder to change the state constitution. They also voted to legalize marijuana and ensure access to abortion − two issues that Ohio’s GOP-controlled Legislature had fought for decades.

Voter-approved anti-gerrymandering reforms from 2015 and 2018 led to a chaotic mapmaking process, which included several maps rejected as unconstitutional by O’Connor’s Ohio Supreme Court. Using the current maps, Republicans hold a veto-proof majority in the Ohio Statehouse and 10 of 15 congressional seats.

“Seven times the politicians thumbed their noses at the citizens and trampled on the rule of law and imposed gerrymandered maps on their voters,” O’Connor, a Republican, told a crowd gathered in the Ohio Statehouse atrium. “Ladies and gentlemen, those days are over.”

How would the new redistricting model work?

Instead of giving the mapmaking power to lawmakers and statewide elected officials, the proposed constitutional amendment would create a 15-member Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission of five Republicans, five Democrats and five independents.

Four retired judges would help select the redistricting commission by narrowing down applicants. Elected officials, lobbyists, political consultants and others with close ties to politics could not serve on the commission.

Senate GOP spokesman John Fortney contended that the citizen commission would not be accountable to Ohioans.

“Citizens not Politicians should be renamed Political Outcomes over People,” Fortney said. “When it dissolves, they disappear and Ohioans will be left holding a bag filled with sprawling gerrymandered districts for radical leftists with nowhere to turn to for answers and accountability.”

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