Ballot Board Expands Summary Of Redistricting Amendment

Members of the group Voters First sued for the expanded description of the redistricting amendment.(Photo: Jo Ingles, Ohio Public Radio)
Members of the group Voters First sued for the expanded description of the redistricting amendment.(Photo: Jo Ingles, Ohio Public Radio)

Ohio voters will see an expanded description of a proposed redistricting amendment on fall ballots, but the issue’s backers say the language is still cumbersome.

The Ohio Ballot Board agreed in a party-line vote Thursday to new ballot language for Issue 2. The vote came a day after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the wording was incomplete and inaccurate.

Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office proposed adding paragraphs of exact phrasing from the amendment. Democrats and the group behind the proposal said a more concise, clear summary was possible.

Husted said that approach risked not pleasing the court and delaying distribution of ballots in the key battleground state.

The proposal shifts power for drawing Ohio’s legislative and congressional districts from elected officials to an appointed 12-member commission.

Ohio’s elections chief on Thursday reconvened the panel that approves ballot language after the Ohio Supreme Court scolded the board for poorly wording a fall ballot issue on redistricting.

Husted called an emergency meeting of the state Ballot Board to rewrite Issue 2 within hours of the court’s ruling. Justices ruled that the panel’s chosen language for describing what the constitutional amendment does was inaccurate and incomplete.

The turn of events followed a lawsuit filed by Voters First, the group that wants to change Ohio’s process for determining state legislative and federal congressional districts.

The group argued that the board’s original wording left out key elements of its proposal, and the court agreed.

The amendment creates a 12-member panel through a multistage process.

That involves an application process, the Chief Justice selecting a bipartisan group of appellate judges to winnow the field to 42, a chance for lawmakers of both parties to reject some of their choices, and then a lottery to choose the first nine commission members from three pools.

Three would be from the majority political party, three from the minority and three unaffiliated. Those nine people would select the final three panelists, again one of each party and one unaffiliated.

The amendment also calls for the commission’s records to be public and its meetings to be open, and it establishes some parameters for setting up a budget. It establishes goals for establishing the districts, adding a caveat that they must comply with existing the state and federal laws and constitutions.

The ballot language as approved last month stated the amendment would “remove the authority of elected representatives and grant new authority to appointed officials” to create the maps – a key talking point of the issue’s opponents. It described the commission as being created “from a limited pool of applicants” – without describing how the pool would be selected.

The high court said this language was flawed because it said nothing about who would do the appointing or the rules for doing it. (They also noted that an appointment process might not be any less political than one involving elected officials.)

Board-approved language also took time to note that the budget the General Assembly would establish for the commission could be spent on “legal counsel” and “consultants.”

A point added at the urging of the opponent group Protect Your Vote Ohio said the issue would “change the standards and requirements in the Constitution” for drawing the lines. The court said this point was offered “instead of specifying any of the pertinent criteria that the commission must follow in redistricting.”

“Because this subject matter strikes at the very core of the proposed amendment, the board’s condensed ballot statement does not fairly and accurately present the issue to be decided…” they wrote.

Justices said the language could at least mention the proposed process intends to maximize the number of political balanced districts, balance those leaning toward either political party and avoid favoring or disfavoring any particular party.

The court rejected other areas of Voters First’s legal arguments against the ballot language.

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