Effort to change how Ohio draws districts for Congress underway

Supporters of statewide issue now gathering signatures around Ohio.

A coalition of groups seeking to end the congressional “gerrymandering” they believe creates unfair federal elections in Ohio launched a petition drive on Thursday to put a reform proposal on the November ballot.

The group’s proposal changes how Congressional district lines are drawn, essentially mirroring the constitutional amendment voters overwhelmingly approved in 2015 reforming how the state’s legislative districts are redrawn every ten years to reflect population changes in the U.S. Census.

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“It would change it from a political thing where only one party is needed to make all the important decisions to a much fairer process where both parties have to buy in, where you are specifically not allowed to design districts in a way that would benefit a particular candidate or a particular party,” said Ellis Jacobs, senior attorney for Advocates for Basic Legal Equality in Dayton. “And it’s all done in the light of day with citizens having the opportunity to have input, there are public hearings and a whole public process.”

On Tuesday the Ohio Ballot Board certified the amendment proposed by Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio as a single ballot issue, allowing signature collection to begin.

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The effort is led by the coalition, Fair Districts=Fair Elections, made up of Common Cause Ohio, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the LWV of the Greater Dayton Area, the Miami Valley Progressive Caucus and other groups.

The coalition must collect 305,591 signatures from registered Ohio voters by July 5 to get on this November’s ballot. If it fails to meet that deadline signature collection can continue and it could be placed on the General Election ballot in 2018 or later. The coalition wants to have it passed by voters before 2021 redistricting.

The current lines were drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature in 2011. Of the state’s 16 congressional districts, 12 are held by Republicans.

The state legislature put the 2015 constitutional amendment reforming state legislative redistricting on the ballot. But after the amendment passed Republican leaders who controlled the Statehouse said they wanted to wait to see how the reform works in 2021 before changing how Congressional districts are drawn. That would push any Congressional district reform to 2031.

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The coalition says that isn’t soon enough to make districts more politically competitive.

“The League has been working on this issue for 40 years through Republican and Democratic administrations alike,” said Lucy Anne McKosky of the League of Women Voters of the Greater Dayton Area. “We believe the people are best served when elections are fair, when the voters choose their representatives, not the people who drew the district lines.”

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