Ohio's House Bill 369 has been causing fuss across the state since it was signed into law by Ohio Gov. John Kasich last December, and opponents of the bill are close to getting an amendment onto the November ballot that would redesign the congressional districts instituted by the bill.
On July 3, Voters First, a coalition established after HB-369's inception to combat the bill's Republican-led efforts to deliberately have congressional and legislative districts drawn in their favor, submitted 450,000 petition signatures to the Ohio Secretary of State — significantly more than the 385,000 signatures necessary to obtain a spot on the November ballot. At the end of the month, the Secretary of State will review the signatures and determine which are eligible, after which the coalition will have another set period to obtain more signatures, should the 385,000 not be met.
Opponents of HB-369 argue the drawing of last year's new congressional districts represents gerrymandering — when district boundaries are deliberately manipulated to favor a specific political party, grouping certain demographics strategically and distorting voter representations. According to Voters First, last year's secretive redistricting process was led exclusively by Republicans who deliberately disregarded public input.
They've been working to amass support for a new bill that would bring transparency and fairness to the redistricting process, which typically occurs every ten years following a census.
According to Dan Tokaji, an Ohio State University law professor and member of the Voters First coalition, the issue is one that crosses all party lines. "This is not a Republican vs. Democrat issue. [Gerrymandering] has been done by both parties. The opposition has been trying to characterize this as a Democrat-led effort."
What has happened, explains Tokaji, is that in Ohio the Republicans currently hold political control, so it just so happens that they jumped on the redistricting opportunity to create districts that specifically advantage them.
"You could throw a bucket of paint on the wall and it wouldn't be as ugly as these maps," says Tokaji.
In Cincinnati, the redistricting included more suburban and rural areas in the city's Congressional district, potentially giving Republicans greater weight in the district (CityBeat reported on the situation May 30 in response to
We Are Ohio joining the effort to overturn the GOP-drawn maps.)
Voters First has proposed an amendment for the November ballot that would bring transparency and fairness to the redistricting process by establishing a 12-member "Ohio Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission" that would be made up of non-partisan Ohio citizens. According to Tokaji, members would have to go through an application process that would specifically eliminate politicians, lobbyists and large political donors.
Tokaji says the commission would bring to the redistricting process four key components that were deliberately absent in the 2011 process, including fairness, encouragement of competition, respect for community boundaries and compactness of districts.
"Ohioans across the political spectrum are just tired of politics as usual. They're sick of leaders acting in a selfish way. We need to change that.