By Marc Kovac
A group hoping to take politicians out of the process the state uses to change its legislative district lines submitted more than 430,000 signatures to the secretary of state’s office with hopes of placing its proposal before voters in November.
Voters First plans to continue circulating signatures over the holiday and in the days to come as state officials check to see if there are enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. About 385,000 are required from counties throughout the state.
“The proposed amendment, which we anticipate will be on the November ’12 ballot, will ensure every Ohio voter’s right to faire, competitive elections,” said Ann Henkener, redistricting specialist for the Ohio League of Women Voters. “We want to replace the current system, where the politicians draw their own lines. They ... rigged the system.”
The signatures were turned in Tuesday.
She added, “We want our government to be accountable to the voters, and we think this would be a big step forward in trying to get that done, and we also want this done as soon as possible. We don’t need to go another decade with manipulated districts.”
Reapportionment of state legislative lines is completed every 10 years, after new census statistics pinpoint population changes throughout the state. A five-member board oversees the process, headed by the governor and including the secretary of state, state auditor and two members from the state Legislature (one from each party).
That process is separate from congressional redistricting, which is handled by state lawmakers. Both processes were completed last year, under the control of Republicans.
Voters First wants to create a new citizens commission to draw the state’s legislative and congressional district lines. The board would include four Republicans, four Democrats and four nonpartisan voters, with eight of the 12 members required to sign off on any districts. Lobbyists, politicians and large campaign contributors would not be allowed to serve.
Districts would be drawn following specified criteria that take into account compactness and competition, said Catherine Turcer, speaking on behalf of Voters First.
“What we don’t want is our district lines manipulated,” she said. “What we don’t want is a district that works its way from Toledo to Cleveland. What we do want are districts that are competitive. What we do want are districts that are compact, [keeping] our communities together.”
The proposal would replace the current apportionment and redistricting process, which tips in favor of whichever political party is in power.
Voters First received assistance from We Are Ohio during its petition drive. The latter is the union-backed group that headed last year’s effort to overturn Senate Bill 5, the controversial law limiting public employee collective bargaining that was soundly defeated by voters in November.