Redistricting reform passes key test in Ohio

Redistricting reform passes key test in Ohio
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A measure to reform the way Ohio draws its congressional district lines has cleared a key procedural hurdle, likely setting up a ballot initiative in next year’s midterm elections.

The Ohio Ballot Board, headed by Secretary of State Jon Husted (R), gave formal approval to language that would appear alongside the initiative. That gives supporters the ability to begin collecting signatures to place the initiative on the ballot.

But those backers are not optimistic that they can collect the 305,591 valid signatures required to get the measure on the ballot this year. They would have to collect those signatures by July 5, just five weeks from now.

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Ohio rules require supporters to gather signatures from half of the state’s 88 counties. They must collect a number of signatures equal to 5 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election in each of those 44 counties.

While backers aren’t optimistic about their chances this year, the Ballot Board’s decision to ratify language gives redistricting reformers the chance to get a head start on collecting signatures ahead of next year’s deadline.

The measure, formally known as the Ohio Bipartisan Congressional Redistricting Commission Initiative, would create a seven-member commission to draw new district lines. The commission would include Ohio’s governor, secretary of State and state auditor, along with four representatives appointed by the two major parties in Ohio’s state legislature. Any new lines would require a simple majority to ratify.

At the moment, Republicans control all three executive offices and both chambers of the state legislature. That would give Republicans five votes and Democrats just two, if the commission were in operation today.

Other states that operate commissions are either evenly divided between the two parties, like in Washington state, or made up of ostensibly independent members, like in California.

Ohio voters passed a similar redistricting reform measure covering state legislative districts in 2015. The first time that new way to draw district lines will take effect is in 2021, after the 2020 Census.

Republicans control 12 of Ohio’s 16 congressional districts. Current population projections suggest Ohio is likely to lose one of its districts after the next round of reapportionment in 2022, continuing a long-term trend of districts bleeding away from the Rust Belt and into the Sun Belt.