A campaign to end Republican gerrymandering in Ohio cleared a significant hurdle on Thursday. The state Ballot Board, which has a Republican majority, unanimously voted that a ballot initiative that would create an independent redistricting commission complies with state law, clearing the way for supporters to soon begin gathering voter signatures to get it onto the November 2024 ballot. If the measure qualifies and wins voter approval, the proposed constitutional amendment would require the new commission to draw fairer maps in 2025, replacing the GOP's current gerrymanders.
Daily Kos Elections recently took an in-depth look at how the proposed commission would work. The ballot initiative effort is being led by a group called Citizens Not Politicians, whose website has more information about how to support the effort.
Supporters face an initial July 3, 2024, deadline to gather 413,487 signatures statewide—a number equal to 10% of votes cast in the 2022 election for governor—though they would receive an extra 10 days if they fall short. Backers also must obtain signatures equal to 5% of the votes cast for governor in 44 of Ohio's 88 counties. This county-based requirement significantly disadvantages progressives—but not conservatives—because even the bluest half of Ohio's counties include ones that Donald Trump won by up to 70-28, which is far redder than his 53-45 statewide margin.
However, redistricting reformers already received a significant boost in August when Ohioans voted 57-43 to reject a Republican-backed ballot measure that would have made it considerably harder for voters to pass any future constitutional amendments, requiring a 60% supermajority of voter support instead of a simple majority. The GOP's measure also would have required signatures for voter-led amendments in all 88 counties and eliminated the 10-day grace period for gathering additional signatures.
Top Republicans had been exposed saying that the purpose of their failed amendment was to block voters from passing an abortion-rights measure next month and approving redistricting reform next year, both of which now have a chance for voters to make the measures law.
If approved by voters, the redistricting amendment would create a commission of 15 members—five Democrats, five Republicans, and five unaffiliated members—with strict limitations on who can serve as a commissioner, including a ban on elected officials, lobbyists, and other politically connected individuals. The amendment imposes several criteria for drawing new maps, which critically includes a requirement that the proportion of districts favoring each of the two major parties reflects each party's level of support in statewide elections over the previous six years.
The reform would replace Ohio's flawed bipartisan process, which let Republicans, who dominate state government, pass aggressive gerrymanders after the 2020 census. Ohio's Supreme Court had struck down the GOP's congressional maps twice and their legislative maps five times, but the Republican-backed amendments that voters had passed last decade to create the current system didn't let the court draw its own maps. Republicans were therefore able to run out the clock and use a set of illegal maps that preserved their supermajorities.
Republican stonewalling paid off last year because a moderate Republican justice who had sided with her three Democratic colleagues to strike down the maps was barred from seeking reelection due to age limits, and hard-line Republicans subsequently gained a 4-3 majority on the state Supreme Court. The state's GOP-controlled bipartisan redistricting commission recently approved a sixth set of legislative gerrymanders that would otherwise remain in use for the rest of the decade, but the redistricting reform amendment would, if it passes, replace them with fairer maps in 2025.