At 98, Ohio woman continues lifetime of civic engagement by gathering petitions in favor of constitutional amendment to end gerrymandering

Elinor Polster has lived in Cleveland for all of her 98 years and has advocated for social justice as long as she can remember. Now, decades after helping to foster a famous racially integrated community in Shaker Heights, she’s on a new mission: collecting signatures from her fellow Clevelanders for the Citizens Not Politicians Amendment to end gerrymandering in Ohio.

The proposed constitutional amendment would draw Ohio’s legislative and congressional lines without unfairly giving one political party an advantage over another. The issue would replace the current commission, a seven-member group of elected officials, with a non-politician commission chosen by a bipartisan panel.

Under the current system, “You don’t elect people that would really represent you and ordinances get passed that are against what you believe in or what is best for your community,” Mrs. Polster said.

“It’s very important to have legislative districts representative of the people who live in those districts,” she said.

Mrs. Polster is no stranger to advocating for positive change. In the 1950s, she and her late husband helped found the Ludlow Community Association in Shaker Heights, dedicated to encouraging and supporting a racially integrated community. That association, and the Polsters’ work on it, are highlighted in the new book, Dream Town: Shaker Heights and the Quest for Racial Equity, by journalist Laura Meckler.

In the 1960s, Mrs. Polster was one of several Shaker Heights citizens, many of them women, who organized to successfully block a county plan to run a highway through Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights.

“I’ve always been involved with whatever I could do to benefit the community,” Mrs. Polster said.

Mrs. Polster, the mother of three children, including Cleveland federal Judge Dan Polster, has collected petition signatures at a variety of places around the city. Taking a stand for positions you believe in is crucial to creating a better world for yourself, your neighbors, and your children, she said.

A few people are apprehensive when approached about signing something, but most have heard about the redistricting issue and are happy to provide their signature, Mrs. Polster said.

Mrs. Polster is modest about her efforts, but outspoken about the need for the constitutional amendment. She believes that, if passed, it will reduce the current political divisiveness by making districts more competitive and forcing more candidates to take the concerns of all constituents into account, not just those from one political party.

Citizens Not Politicians volunteer signature gatherer Mrs. Elinor Polster, 98, at her home in Shaker Heights, Ohio, holding her petitions that she takes with her when she is out and about town to get signatures from her fellow citizens to put the Citizens Not Politicians Amendment on the November ballot to end gerrymandering in Ohio. Behind her is some of her ceramic art.

“I’m just trying to make it fair for everybody,” she said.

Petitions are circulating in the state to place the Citizens Not Politicians Amendment on the November ballot.

The Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission will consist of 15 citizens, not elected officials, including five Republicans, five Democrats, and five Independent voters unaffiliated with the two major parties.
A bipartisan screening panel of four judges split between political parties will select the commission members.

If approved, the new commission could draw maps that could be in place as early as the 2026 elections.