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Published: Tuesday, 9/13/2005

The people will decide

A LAST-DITCH attempt to keep election-reform issues off Ohio's Nov. 8 ballot should be seen for what it clearly was: an act of political desperation.

The Ohio Republican Party, which was behind a court challenge to scuttle the issues, wasn't really concerned that a law was violated when non-Ohioans circulated the petitions. What alarmed the GOP most was that its 15-year political stranglehold on this state would be threatened if Ohioans were to vote on these four constitutional amendments.

And now they will. Ohio First, the GOP-backed front group, had its challenge rejected on procedural grounds last week by the 10th District Court of Appeals in Columbus. Ohio First now says it will drop the court case and try to convince voters to reject the issues on Nov. 8.

The complaint against out-of-state paid petition solicitors was especially transparent considering that no such rule was enforced last year when the same tactic was used by Republicans and their allies to put the successful constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage on the ballot.

Particularly amusing was the stance of Attorney General Jim Petro, one of three GOP gubernatorial wannabes, who managed to come down on both sides of the petition issue. Mr. Petro's office defended Secretary of State Ken Blackwell in the case, but Mr. Petro, playing the good party soldier, personally came out against out-of-state circulators.

Fellow Republican Blackwell couldn't very well argue against out-of-state petition solicitors because they were used to gather signatures for the tax-limitation issue he hopes will help sweep him into the governor's office in 2006.

The point is that more than 350,000 registered voters signed the election-reform petitions, and there was no good reason to deny the people of Ohio their say.

Whether the proposed amendments will cure what ails Ohio's electoral system is still open to question, but there is little doubt that state election laws have been manipulated to GOP advantage over the years.

The amendments would:

●Take the process of redrawing legislative and congressional districts out of the hands of elected officials to prevent a dominant political party from gaining permanent advantage in winning elections;

●Remove the secretary of state as chief elections officer in favor of a nine-member appointed state elections board;

●Permit absentee voting without a reason, by mail or in person, up to 35 days before an election, and

●Restore state campaign contribution limits, which were more than doubled by the GOP-controlled legislature.

We expect a vigorous debate on these amendments before Election Day, which is what the Republicans were trying to avoid in opposing them on a weak technicality.

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