COLUMBUS, Ohio — Lawmakers asking for less authority isn’t something you normally hear, but Governor Mike DeWine admitted that the state’s current redistricting system “doesn’t work very well,” and while he doesn’t think politicians like him should get to decide the maps, his office has some initial qualms with the proposal to create an independent commission of citizens to redraw the state’s congressional districts.
“As a politician, I’m asking you to take power away from us and put it in citizens’ hands,” state Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) said.
But Ohio Republican legislators haven’t been fair in the redistricting process, Weinstein said. The majority of the Ohio Redistricting Commission ignored seven state Supreme Court decisions telling them to stop gerrymandering.
Weinstein is backing a constitutional amendment that Citizens Not Politicians, a nonpartisan coalition, has put forward for the November 2024 ballot. It is being spearheaded by former Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who became the leader in the fight against gerrymandering in 2022.
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The proposal creates the 15-member Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission (OCRC) made up of Republican, Democratic and independent citizens who broadly represent the different geographic areas and demographics of the state.
It bans current or former politicians, political party officials, lobbyists and large political donors from sitting on the commission.
It requires fair and impartial districts by making it unconstitutional to draw voting districts that discriminate against or favor any political party or individual politician. It also mandates the commission to operate under an open and independent process.
Read the full amendment here.
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Many Republicans, like Cuyahoga County Republican Party Chair Lisa Sticken, are speaking out in opposition.
“This is redistricting for the whole state,” Sticken said. “I think having statewide input makes sense to me.”
The proposal isn’t needed, she said. This is because the commissioners, three on the executive branch and four in the general assembly, are elected by Ohioans.
“We have Republicans that won those positions,” she added. “Had we had Democrats that won those positions, you’d have a different-looking commission.”
The Ohio Redistricting Commission is made up of seven spots. Two will always go to Republicans and two to Democrats in the Statehouse. The three remaining seats include the governor, secretary of state and auditor.
DeWine, who currently sits on the commission, disagrees with Sticken.
“The system we have today doesn’t work very well,” the governor said with a smile to Statehouse reporters Monday. “[It’s] no great revelation to anyone in this room who watched this unfold — it just didn’t work very well.”
DeWine has said for months now, including in a one-on-one with News 5 in Nov. of 2022, that he doesn’t think he should get to decide the maps. Other politicians shouldn’t either, he added.
“I’m in favor of making a change — whether this is the right change or not, I don’t know because I haven’t really gone through it and studied it,” the governor added.
The amendment proposal is 22 pages, single-spaced. While DeWine hasn’t had time — his spokesperson Dan Tierney explains that the governor has some initial qualms. One of the major ones is that DeWine wants to prioritize competitiveness and keep communities together — and at an initial glance, his goals aren’t met.
The amendment does state that “districts shall preserve communities of interest to the extent practicable.”
Another concern is the statewide partisan preference, Tierney added. The amendment wants to change the look back on preference from 10 years to six years, which would exclude the 2022 election. Some Democrats say this is the point because the 2022 elections were held with maps deemed unconstitutional a multitude of times.
Now is the time for accountability, Weinstein said, so that the people drawing the maps aren’t directly benefited and protected by their districts.
“I’m asking you to take power away from us and put it in citizens’ hands to deliver truly fair, bipartisan maps that are actually representative of the public will so that legislators are no longer insulated from it at the Statehouse,” he added.
Joking with the reporters who spent hours holed up in moist committee rooms, DeWine laughed as he was asked when redistricting would start up again — since Ohio needs to pass new maps.
“It’s gonna happen one of these days,” he chuckled. “Look — it’s going to happen.”
The jovial nature was shut down when reporters started asking about other topics — like controversial education policy concerns and Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau asking about the GOP split on recreational marijuana ahead of the Nov. vote.
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What’s next for amendment
The Attorney General has 10 days to determine if the petition and summary are a fair and truthful statement of the proposed constitutional amendment. Once the petition is certified, the AG forwards it to the Ohio Ballot Board, which has 10 days to determine if it contains only one constitutional amendment.
After Ballot Board certification, the AG must file a verified copy of the proposed constitutional amendment and summary, along with the AG’s certification, with the Ohio Secretary of State.
At that point, the petitioners may begin to collect the required 413,487 valid signatures of registered voters by July 3, 2024 to qualify for the 2024 Ohio General Election Ballot.
Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.