Reformers can move ahead with effort to change how congressional lines are drawn in Ohio

Ohio step closer to changing how congressional lines are drawn

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Ohio step closer to changing how congressional lines are drawn

UPDATE: Supporters of reforming congressional redistricting in Ohio will now be able to gather petition signatures to get the issue on the ballot.

On Tuesday the Ohio Ballot board certified the proposed constitutional amendment as a single ballot issue.

That opens the way for Fair Districts Fair Elections to collect 305,591 signatures  from registered Ohio voters.

An effort to reform how Ohio redraws congressional district lines every 10 years moved forward this week after the petition for a state constitutional amendment was certified by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

The next step is the Ohio Ballot Board, which must approve the proposed language before supporters can begin gathering the necessary signatures to get the issue on the ballot.

Changing the process for how congressional districts are drawn has gathered momentum since Ohio voters in 2015 approved an amendment reforming how state legislative districts are drawn.

“What’s good for the Statehouse is good for Congress,” said Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio, one of the coalition partners in Fair Districts=Fair Elections, the group seeking the reform measure.

The new proposal would essentially mirror what voters approved for the state legislature with a few modifications, said Carrie Davis, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, another coalition partner.

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States must redraw both legislative and congressional districts after each 10-year U.S. Census to reflect population changes. States use different methods to determine which voters are represented in each district, though few states are immune from allegations of politics tainting the process.

In Ohio, Democrats have long argued that districts are unfairly drawn. They say Republicans, who have controlled the process through several Census cycles, pack Democrats into a few districts while keeping Republican districts safe. Of the state’s 16 congressional districts, 12 are held by Republicans.

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Gov. John Kasich and Secretary of State Jon Husted — both Republicans — have said the process is in need of reform, but not all Republicans agree with them. Some have argued to hold off and see how legislative redistricting reform works out before moving ahead on changing how congressional districts are redrawn.

RELATED: Kasich backs redistricting reform

Because Husted is chairman of the Ohio Ballot Board, he said he would withhold specific comments on the reform proposal until the board’s review is completed. But, he said, “as a longtime advocate for redistricting reform…we’ve got to change the incentive for partisanship that gerrymandering creates.”

This week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against North Carolina’s state legislature in a racial gerrymandering case. Other cases too are pending before the high court.

RELATED: High court ruling may give voter rights groups a strong tool

DeWine certified the petition for the Bipartisan Congressional Redistricting Reform Amendment, which had the required 1,000 valid signatures from registered Ohio voters and a “fair and truthful” summary of the proposed amendment. The group had amended an earlier petition that had been rejected by DeWine’s office.

Within 10 days the petition will go before the Ohio Ballot Board, which will determine if the amendment contains a single issue or multiple issues.

Once that is done the group can move forward to gather the necessary 305,591 signatures needed to put it on the November ballot. If the signatures are gathered by July 5 it would go on the 2017 ballot. Otherwise the group would push for November 2018, Davis said.

“The reality is we need to get this reform done before the lines are redrawn in 2021. So practically this needs to get done by 2020,” she said.

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