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Published: Thursday, 11/10/2005

GOP reform plan needed, expert says

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Now that they've declared victory in defeating the effort to reform Ohio elections, it's time for Republicans to step to the plate, an Ohio State University election law expert said yesterday.

"They want to look responsible," said Edward Foley, OSU law professor and former state solicitor. "Given the nature of the debate we had in Ohio, looking responsible and being responsible means offering alternative reform."

Republicans went five for five on statewide ballot issues on Election Day against predictions of a scandal-induced voter backlash.

The reform movement forged by a coalition of mostly Democrat constituencies say they suffered from a lack of official backing from the state party and a message confused by lengthy, complicated ballot language.

The only statewide ballot issue embraced by voters Tuesday was a $2 borrowing package for roads, water, and other local public works projects; "high-tech" research investment; and local commercial and industrial site infrastructure.

Voters rejected outright four proposed constitutional amendments to overhaul redistricting, campaign contribution limits, election oversight, and absentee voting.

"Maybe some of this was too out of the box for voters, but they know they need some reform. Maybe they don't need these specific reforms, but they know that things are broken," said Catherine Turcer, of Ohio Citizen Action, a government watchdog group that supported the failed amendments.

On Tuesday, voters:

●Passed Issue 1 with 54.1 percent of the statewide vote, despite losing 37 of 88 counties.

●Rejected Issue 2 with 63.5 percent of the vote. The amendment would have allowed voters to cast absentee ballots as early as 35 days before an election. The pain of rejection was muted, however, by recent legislation enacting a variation on the same theme.

●Rejected Issue 3, which would have mostly reduced current campaign contribution limits, with 66.7 percent of the vote.

●Rejected Issue 4 with 69.8 percent of the vote. The amendment was aimed at stripping elected officials of their authority to redraw congressional and legislative districts.

●Rejected Issue 5 with 70.2 percent of the vote. The amendment would have taken the secretary of state's role as chief elections officer and given it to a new statewide board of elections.

Rep. Kevin DeWine (R., Fairborn) agreed that it's time for Republicans to take a swing on changing how Ohio redraws congressional and legislative districts, a process critics claim has been manipulated by the party in power to partisan and incumbent advantage.

"We're going to try to come up with something that is reasonable, somewhere between where we are today, with a system that has some flaws to it, and something that was completely irrational and irresponsible that voters were presented with [Tuesday]," he said.

Mr. Foley said it was no accident that voters in California and Ohio simultaneously rejected somewhat similar redistricting proposals offered by opposite parties that were packaged with other proposals characterized as anti-labor and pro-labor respectively.

"Redistricting has to be done on its own," he said. "The goal of redistricting is to be truly nonpartisan, no advantage to one side or the other."

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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