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Arnold Schwarzenegger headlines rally for Ohio redistricting ballot initiative

This story was last updated on March 6, 2024 at 3:00 p.m.

As the Arnold Sports Festival wound down in Columbus on Sunday evening, its namesake headlined a “Terminate Gerrymandering” campaign event for a standing-room only crowd at the downtown Hilton.

“There's no mistake. They intentionally draw it to screw you, the citizens,” former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told cheering attendees Sunday. “There is only one way. Get the legislators and the lawmakers out of the redistricting business.”

Citizens Not Politicians organized the event. The statewide campaign is proposing a 15-member independent commission take over the political mapmaking process.

The film and bodybuilding icon has rallied behind the issue of redistricting reform before, including in Ohio in 2018. About one-third of states have independent redistricting commissions, including the state Schwarzenegger calls home, but he said it's going to take a fight to get the other two-thirds to change course.

“It’s a very, very difficult subject,” he said. “It's not a sexy subject. It's not easy to explain. It's not easy to talk about, because most people don't even know there is such a thing. Like I said, I didn't know.”

Schwarzenegger said Sunday he became intimately familiar with gerrymandering while serving as governor. In conversations, lawmakers on both sides would blame how their districts were drawn for why they wouldn't back policy proposals, even popular ones, he said.

“You want performance. The Constitution says, ‘We the people’ not ‘We the politicians,’” he said. “They want to stay in power because it feels good being in charge of a district.”

Other panelists at the Sunday event included American Ninja Warrior moderator Matt Iseman, Ohio State University political science professor Ange-Marie Hancock, Jeniece Brock with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, and Jen Miller with the League of Women Voters of Ohio.

Targeting a November vote

“Signature gathering is going very, very well. Our accuracy rates are high,” Miller said before the event. “We have thousands of volunteers in every congressional district, every Senate district, every House district out there.”

Since late 2023, volunteers with Citizens Not Politicians have been gathering signatures to get a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would overhaul how Ohio handles legislative redistricting.

It would throw out the current process, in which elected officials on the Ohio Redistricting Commission draw the districts for congressional and Ohio General Assembly races. The commission has seven members, including the governor, secretary of state, auditor, and four legislative appointees—currently five Republicans and two Democrats.

The state would then establish an independent commission of 15 members: five Republicans, five Democrats and five independents.

Citizens Not Politicians had to go through the Ohio Attorney General and Ballot Board not once, but twice, because of the clerical error. That error put them back a few weeks—and prompted them to miss Election Day, often a big one for signature gathering.

The push to overhaul the process comes after years of conflict over redistricting in a state where one party dominates the political schema. In 2022, the state’s highest court rejected five tries at ORC-drawn maps, all of which gave Republicans a legislative supermajority. The current Ohio House and Senate districts, adopted in late September, heavily favor Republicans.

Frank Strigari served as legal counsel for the Ohio Senate GOP until last year, and now works as a government affairs lawyer. Strigari said he doesn’t think the proposal is viable. Generally, he's against handing the process over to independent commissions, he said, because he feels it silences voters by removing their elected officials from the redistricting equation.

“I don't think any system is perfect,” Strigari said in an interview. “Our current system is not perfect.”

But he said this proposal in particular might preclude anyone with redistricting background from participating.

Strigari said he remembers Schwarzenegger's last political push in Columbus.

“I remember him doing shots with John Kasich and all the legislative leaders,” he said. “He was toasting how we ‘terminated gerrymandering,’ so we appreciate, obviously, Arnold's perspective on this, but I feel like he said the same thing.”

Citizens Not Politicians needs more than 413,000 valid signatures by July to make it on the November ballot.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at
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