Statehouse Rallies Sept. 21 and 22
Statewide coalitions are holding major rallies at the Statehouse next week to defend two constitutional rights: the principle that every vote should count equally, and the right of peaceful protest. The statewide Unitarian nonprofit UUJO offers Fundamentals of Legislative Visits training this Wednesday at 7 via Zoom. Register here.
Sept. 21, 9-2: Fair Maps Day
The Fair Districts Coalition, which includes the Ohio Council of Churches, is scheduling a rally and meetings with legislators. Register here. This comes in the wake of public outcry over the Ohio Redistricting Commission’s party-line vote Sept. 9 to use Republican maps as its starting point for state legislative districts, despite evidence they violate the Ohio Constitution’s representational fairness standard.
The Fair Districts Coalition is working to ensure that the Commission and the Legislature comply with Constitutional reforms designed to end partisan gerrymandering, approved in referenda passed by over 70% of voters in every county. The constitutional amendments include specific criteria for fair districts. Read more in the background section below.
Sept. 22, 9-4: Statehouse Stomp to defend Right of Assembly
Unitarian Universalist Justice Ohio (UUJO) has set this rally and legislative visit day to oppose several bills that would increase financial and criminal risks for protesters and organizations supporting protests: HB 109, HB 22, and SB 41. These bills were introduced to deter demonstrations for racial justice in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Register here for the event, which starts with training on effective legislative advocacy. UUJO will also help you request Zoom meetings with your legislators.
Background on these issues
Ohio’s new Constitutional rules on redistricting have inspired thousands of Ohio voters to provide testimony to help shape fair districts, but the Ohio Redistricting Commission’s delayed start, rushed public hearing process, and initial vote on state legislative maps has aroused citizens across the state to testify to their deep concern that the outcome will be another set of extremely gerrymandered maps and a further collapse of trust in our elections.
In two referenda (2015 and 2018), Ohio voters approved separate processes for drawing the maps for the Ohio legislature and for Congressional districts. The Ohio Redistricting Commission, which has five Republican and two Democratic members, is supposed to approve state legislative district maps by Sept. 15. Several maps have been submitted and can be downloaded here. In addition to State Senate President Matt Huffman’s maps, which were created by Republican legislative staff and adopted by the Commission Sept. 9 as their starting point, there are several nonpartisan maps which include documentation on how they comply with the constitutional fairness requirements. The Republican map only provides population numbers by district. You can review and submit comments on any of these maps by email. Write by Wednesday, as the Commissioners plan to vote on the maps by Sept. 15.
The Ohio Legislature must create Congressional maps by Sept. 30. Both state and congressional district maps must have bipartisan support to go into effect for 10 years.
The federal For the People Act (HR1/S1) would provide nationwide protections against partisan gerrymandering and voter suppression. In its 2019 decision Rucho v Common Cause, the Supreme Court declined to set criteria for partisan gerrymandering, ruling that this problem requires a political (legislative) solution. The For the People Act would make it easier to register and vote in federal elections, end partisan gerrymandering of Congressional districts, overhaul federal campaign finance laws, and strengthen government ethics rules. Here’s a link to the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations post on federal voting rights bills.
The House of Representatives passed HR 1 in March but the companion bill, S1, is stalled in the Senate. Please send your views to Ohio’s U.S. Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown.
The For the People Act would overrule bills and legislation sweeping across states (including Ohio) that erect new hurdles and limits to voter registration, early voting, and safety and convenience measures like drop-boxes that were so important to enabling the historic turnout in the 2020 election despite the pandemic.
HR1’s Title II spells out anti-gerrymandering rules and restores the 1965 Voting Rights Act protections against racial discrimination ended by Supreme Court decisions. It creates uniform rules for drawing Congressional districts. Some are consistent with Ohio’s constitutional amendments, including the prohibition against “unduly favoring or disfavoring one political party over another.” But the For the People Act would go beyond Ohio’s reforms by requiring all states to have an independent commission, prohibiting current or recent lawmakers, staff, lobbyists, and others with conflicts of interest from serving. Ohio’s current Redistricting Commission includes four members of the General Assembly, plus three top elected statewide officials (Governor, Secretary of State, and Auditor). Five are Republican and two are Democrats. The Brennan Center for Justice has a summary of the key provisions of HR 1 here.
Anti-Protest Laws and Bills: A new state law and several bills are raising big concerns for Ohio advocates for racial justice and environmental protection. SB 33, which went into effect this spring, criminalizes many forms of peaceful protest at oil and gas infrastructure sites like fracking wells and pipelines. HB 109 would increase criminal and financial penalties for individuals and organizations such as churches supporting a protest where roads or sidewalks are blocked, first responders intimidated, or the action is deemed to be a “riot.” HB 22 increases penalties for distracting or diverting the attention of a law enforcement officer. SB 41 would require participants in a protest to reimburse the cost of policing an event if there is any violence or damage, even if the participant did not cause the damage or engage in violence. “Individually, these bills are problematic. Taken together, they are designed to impede and ‘chill’ all forms of public protest in Ohio,” writes Unitarian Universalist Justice Ohio. Here is the UUJO fact sheet on HB 109: and the UUJO fact sheet on HB 22 and SB 41.
Advocacy briefings are compiled by Ariel Miller, a member of Ascension & Holy Trinity, Wyoming, and a member of the diocesan Becoming Beloved Community Leadership Team. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org