Many people are saying that the future of democracy in this country will be on the ballot in 2024. Whether or not that is hyperbole (I think not), there is an effort to put democracy very directly on the 2024 ballot in Ohio through a citizen-initiative state constitutional amendment. The amendment is referred to as the Citizens Not Politicians Amendment. It would completely change the process by which federal Congressional districts and General Assembly districts are drawn in Ohio.

Before looking at the proposed amendment, it is important to understand the highly partisan way in which legislative districts are currently drawn in Ohio. The districts for the 99 seats in the Ohio House of Representatives and the 33 seats in the Ohio Senate are drawn by a “redistricting commission.” The commission is composed entirely of elected officials: the Governor, Secretary of State, State Auditor, one member from the majority party in each of the Ohio House and Senate, and one member from the minority party in each of the Ohio House and Senate. Federal Congressional districts are supposed to be drawn by the General Assembly. However, under current Ohio law, if the General Assembly does not enact districts within a specified time, those are also decided by the redistricting commission.

Both General Assembly and Congressional districts for the 2022 election were drawn by the redistricting commission. That commission consisted of five Republicans and two Democrats. In statewide races from 2018 forward, Republicans have won an average of 54% of the vote and Democrats 46%. However, the Republican-controlled redistricting commission produced Congressional districts which gave Republicans 67% of Ohio’s seats, 68% of the seats in the Ohio House, and 79% of the seats in the Ohio Senate. In 2022, the Ohio Supreme Court held that the Republican-drawn districts violated the rules for redistricting in our State Constitution not once but three times. However, Republicans persuaded a federal court to rule that it was too late to draw lawful districts, so we had to use the illegal districts in 2022.

Legislative districts which have been held to be illegal and which grossly over-represent one party mean that a substantial portion of Ohioans are not being represented in Columbus or in Washington, D.C. This obvious problem has led prominent Ohioans from both parties, and independents, to propose a new way of drawing legislative districts: the Citizens Not Politicians Amendment. The full summary of the amendment, passed as a fair summary by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, is posted on the CCDP website​.

Briefly, the amendment would create a 15-member commission to draw districts for Congress and both houses of our General Assembly. The Commission would have five members affiliated with each of the Democratic and Republican parties and five members not affiliated with either party. The members would be chosen in a public process by retired judges. The Commission would be required to follow certain rules in drawing districts and would be required to accept public input before districts are finalized. A process would exist for meaningful review of the districts by the Ohio Supreme Court (an elected body). Perhaps most significant, no member of the Commission would be allowed to hold any elected or appointed state government position during their term on the Commission or for six years after their term ends.

The evidence nationwide is overwhelming that how you draw the boundaries of a legislative district determines who will be elected from that district almost all of the time. Obviously, the four General Assembly members on the redistricting commission established under current Ohio law have a very direct personal interest in how their districts and those of their colleagues are drawn. The five elected Republican members of the commission have a strong interest in drawing both General Assembly and Congressional districts which will probably be won by Republicans. If a majority of the elected officials on the Commission were Democrats, they would have a strong interest in drawing districts which would probably be won by Democrats. That this is true is amply evidenced by the fact that the Republican five-to-two commission majority drew districts which overwhelming favor Republicans even though the actual partisan divide in Ohio is nowhere nearly as lopsided.

It is probably impossible to create a system to draw legislative districts that is completely immune from partisan political influence. However, the Citizens Not Politicians proposal does a lot to minimize that influence. The commission will be equally divided between Republicans, Democrats, and independents. The commission members would not be chosen by the political parties or by current elected officeholders. The commission members could not be holders of elected or appointed offices and would have to wait for six years after they left the commission to hold such office. The Citizens Not Politicians proposal may not be perfect, but it is a lot better than what Ohio has now. More importantly, it does not favor either party and does not allow the party currently in the majority to rig the system to keep itself in power.

For Ohioans to get to vote on this proposal, petitions containing valid signatures of over 413,000 registered Ohio voters must be submitted to the Secretary of State by July 3, 2024. Those signatures must include signatures from voters in at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties that equal or exceed five percent of the total vote for Governor in each of those counties in 2022. Obviously, this is a large task. Petitions are being circulated by several organizations, including the Clermont County Democratic Party. To find out how you can help, see the top of this newsletter for information and links. This is about the future of our state. Please sign the petition and help get other voters to sign the petition.