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Voters First Seeks To Change District Decisions

Voters First, a group that's been collecting valid signatures to put a new redistricting plan before voters, is getting some help now from We Are Ohio….the group that spearheaded the anti senate bill five campaign. Dennis Williard is with We Are Ohio

Willard - Right now, We are Ohio is going to be focusing on activating and re-engaging our email list which is more than 500 thousand people. We have about 100 thousand followers on facebook. So what we are going to be doing is reaching out to that group saying "help us and help voters first get this one the ballot

Izetta Thomas, a teacher from Columbus, will be working with others in We Are Ohio to get 384 thousand valid signatures by July 1st to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. It would change the system to allow an appointed board to take over the redistricting process. Thomas says taking politicians out of the process is important.

Thomas - Ou t of touch and extreme politicians passed senate bill 5 last year and a voter suppression bill. Both went against the will of the people. These laws are possible because politicians are picking their voters instead of voters electing their representatives.

Sam Gresham with Common Cause Ohio says the current system allows politicians to design districts where the most extreme candidates get elected…..the kind of politicians that won't work in a bipartisan way.

Gresham - You have the gridlock you have in certain congressional and general assembly situations because there is no potential removal of these elected officials because the districts have been exotic districts designed to protect him or her. So there's no retribution or anything that the voters can do.

Husted - This ballot issue will go down to defeat like many and then the opportunity will be lost because of the design of the product.

That's Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted. He doesn't like the current redistricting process. And he's proposed plans in years past that would change it but none have been adopted by the Ohio legislature. But he thinks the plan this group is promoting is no better than what's already being used. He says it's too focused on competitiveness and not focused enough on compactness and keeping like communities together.

Husted - I don't think replacing one bad system with another bad system is a solution. I think that we should work to create a system that prizes all three of those virtues - compactness, competitiveness and communities of interest. And it's not a hard thing to do. You just have to be willing to give up partisan advantage.

But that's easier said than done. Various groups and lawmakers have proposed redistricting plans in the past that they say will improve the system but Ohio voters, when they've had a say in the matter, have rejected those attempts. We are Ohio thinks this time will be different. They say they'll educate voters so they will pass it. But first, the issue has to get on the ballot. The coalition trying to put the issue on the ballot will be at summer events and hold drive through signings throughout the state in the coming weeks.

Rick Jackson is a senior host and producer at Ideastream Public Media. He hosts the "Sound of Ideas" on WKSU and "NewsDepth" on WVIZ.