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Campaign to get new political mapmaking system on Ohio’s ballot submits more than 700,000 signatures

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Backers of a proposal to change Ohio’s troubled political mapmaking system delivered hundreds of thousands of signatures on Monday as they work to qualify for the statewide ballot this fall.

Citizens Not Politicians dropped off more than 700,000 petition signatures to Republican Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office in downtown Columbus, according to Jen Miller, director of League of Women Voters. LaRose now will work with local election boards to determine that at least 413,446 signatures are valid, which would get the proposal onto the Nov. 5 ballot.

The group’s amendment aims to replace the current Ohio Redistricting Commission, made up of three statewide officeholders and four state lawmakers, with an independent body selected directly by citizens. The new panel’s members would be diversified by party affiliation and geography.

Their effort to make the ballot was plagued by early delays. Republican Attorney General Dave Yost raised two rounds of objections to their petition language before wording was initially certified. Then, after the Ohio Ballot Board unanimously cleared the measure in October 2023, organizers were forced to resubmit their petitions due to a single-digit typo in a date.

“It’s just a great day for Ohio and Ohio’s democracy,” Miller said. “Citizens across the state came together to make sure we could get on the ballot this fall and finally end gerrymandering.”

The effort follows the existing structure’s repeated failure to produce constitutional maps. During the protracted process for redrawing district boundaries to account for results of the 2020 Census, challenges filed in court resulted in two congressional maps and five sets of Statehouse maps being rejected as unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

A month after the ballot campaign was announced, the bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission voted unanimously to approve new Statehouse maps, with minority Democrats conceding to “better, fairer” maps that nonetheless continued to deliver the state’s ruling Republicans a robust political advantage.

That same September, congressional district maps favoring Republicans were put in place, too, after the Ohio Supreme Court dismissed a group of legal challenges at the request of the voting-rights groups that had brought them. The groups told the court that continuing to pursue the lawsuits against the GOP-drawn maps brought turmoil not in the best interests of Ohio voters.

Julie Carr Smyth, The Associated Press