By Marc Kovac
The state Ballot Board met in emergency session Thursday to reword ballot language for a redistricting reform measure that will be decided by voters in November.
The meeting came a day after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that language earlier approved by the board, which is headed by Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted and controlled by Republicans, was inaccurate, prejudicial and missing information voters would need to make informed decisions.
The state’s high court ordered the board to change wording related to how members of a new 12-person commission that will draw congressional and legislative districts will be selected, what criteria will be used to establish new lines and how the commission will be funded.
Husted and two other Republicans on the Ballot Board opted to address the justices’ concerns by deleting some words and adding language straight from the proposed constitutional amendment instead of attempting to summarize.
But the two Democratic members of the board and representatives of Voters First, the group that collected signatures to place the issue before voters, were critical of the changes. They said the final language approved was full of legalese that would confuse voters.
“I don’t really think it helps the voters understand what the amendment’s about,” said Ann Henkener, redistricting specialist for the League of Women Voters of Ohio, speaking on behalf of Voters First. She added, “They certainly did not in any way, shape or form comply with the spirit of the court decision.”
Democratic Ballot Board member Mark Griffin added during Thursday’s meeting, “You shouldn’t have to have three years of law school and a law degree and having passed the bar in order to understand what you’re voting on.”
State Issue 2 proposes creating a new citizens commission to draw legislative and congressional districts. 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, and districts would be drawn following specified criteria, including compactness and competition.
The proposal would replace the existing apportionment and redistricting process, which critics say favors whichever political party is in power. If OK’d by voters, the new panel would form immediately and could revisit maps drawn last year that critics say lean too heavily in favor of GOP candidates.
The Ballot Board signed off on abbreviated language for the issue in mid-August, but Voters First filed suit shortly thereafter, saying the results were biased and inaccurate and did not provide an adequate overview of the proposed amendment.
The Ohio Supreme Court sided with the group late Wednesday, and Husted called an emergency meeting of the Ballot Board, saying the language needed to be finalized quickly to provide sufficient time to send ballots to overseas and military voters.