Ohio Voters Could End Gerrymandering This November

A woman standing in a crowd holds two signs that say "#FAIRMAPS"

Voters should be the ones to choose their leaders, not the other way around. While that idea may seem obvious, there are many states — including Ohio — where the people in charge of drawing voting maps are the politicians who stand to benefit most from manipulating those maps.  

When politicians manipulate how voting maps are drawn to benefit themselves or their party, that’s called gerrymandering.

This is a preventable problem that Ohioans could vote to eliminate this November, now that a proposed amendment to create an Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) has received more than enough signatures to get on the ballot.  

When done right, redistricting — the process of drawing the boundaries for voting districts — can make sure that our government is reflective of the people it serves.  

Effective redistricting can empower marginalized communities and ensure that everyone has a voice in our democracy. Redistricting commissions are one of the best tools available to move America toward a more equitable future, but not all redistricting commissions are created equal.

Campaign Legal Center recently released a report, Redistricting Commissions in the 2021 Redistricting Cycle: Case Studies and Lessons Learned for 2031 and Beyond, which outlines what exactly a successful redistricting commission looks like and some of the challenges commissions faced in the 2021 cycle.

Looking at the outcomes, shortcomings, and successes of states like Ohio and beyond, the report proposes a vision for reform.  

CLC’s report reveals that IRCs with full authority over redistricting, like the one currently being proposed in Ohio, are the gold standard.

While no commission is perfect, the best ones place the power of redistricting in the hands of the people rather than politicians, and the proposed Ohio redistricting reform has the potential to do just that.

In Ohio, state legislative redistricting is currently conducted by a Political Commission — a commission that takes the power of redistricting away from the legislature, but gives it to a select group of politicians, with one party having a majority of the seats on the commission — while congressional redistricting remains in the hands of the legislature, with a backup Political Commission in the event that the legislature fails to pass a plan.

Citizens Not Politicians’ proposed amendment would replace the state’s current politician-run redistricting processes with a true IRC led by Ohioans.

This type of redistricting reform is greatly needed in the state, since Ohio is one of the top 10 most gerrymandered states in the nation.  

As it stands now, Ohio’s redistricting process allows politicians to draw their own voting maps, giving them free rein to preserve their party’s power and shield themselves from transparency and accountability.  

Ohio’s 2021 redistricting cycle demonstrated why politicians cannot be trusted with that power. In 2021, the Ohio state legislative Political Commission continually passed maps that violated the state constitution’s ban on partisan gerrymandering.

The maps passed by that commission were repeatedly declared unconstitutional.  

The Legislature did the exact same thing with congressional redistricting. Since state law does not allow the Ohio Supreme Court to replace unlawful maps, a rogue commission and Legislature were able to gerrymander their voting maps and undermine fair representation.  

Ohio’s proposed IRC meets the mark for a highly effective redistricting commission and would help ensure that redistricting — and the voting maps created through the redistricting process — are fairer and more equitable for Ohioans.

If passed by voters in November, Ohio’s IRC would have 15 members vetted to be free from conflicts of interest.  

Additionally, the IRC’s size and political composition — five members from each of the two major political parties and five independent members — are consistent with the best practices identified in CLC’s report.

The proposal also precisely defines how the citizen commissioners would determine a fair partisan balance for maps, providing clarity and predictably fair partisan outcomes.  

The proposal would also allow for the people to get more directly involved with how their districts are created, with opportunities for public input both before and after the release of draft voting maps.  

Unlike Ohio’s current system, which fails to require that the map drawers incorporate public input, the proposed IRC would be required to release a report explaining its mapmaking decisions and how it considered and incorporated public comments into the final plans.

CLC’s recent report reveals that IRCs like the one currently being proposed in Ohio are the gold standard.

Ohio’s proposed IRC has the potential to create voting districts that are more fair, more impartial and that place more power in the hands of everyday citizens rather than politicians.

This blog is also authored by CLC Legal Intern Lauren Holley.

Read more here.