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Published: Wednesday, 7/4/2012

Petitions filed to alter remapping

Voters First, We Are Ohio want amendment on Nov. 6 ballot

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS -- Hoping that voters will remember in November the new shoreline-hugging district that some dubbed "the Lake Erie monster," a coalition Tuesday filed some 450,000 signatures to put a new way to redraw congressional and state legislative districts on the ballot.

If certified for the ballot, it could set up a presidential election-year battle that could have repercussions on future control of Congress and the Ohio General Assembly.

"What we don't want is our district lines manipulated," said Catherine Turcer, spokesman for Voters First. "What we don't want is a district that works its way from Toledo to Cleveland. What we do want are districts that are competitive. What we do want are districts that are compact with our communities together. … This puts voters in charge."

The petitions were filed with Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted's office in advance of today's deadline for issues seeking to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot. To be certified, at least 386,000 of those signatures must prove to be those of valid registered voters after scrutiny from county boards of elections.

The organization won't stop gathering signatures in the meantime, knowing that if it comes up short on first review, it will be given a 10-day grace period to fill the gap.

To put it over the top for this election, Voters First joined forces late in the game with We Are Ohio, the largely labor and Democratic organization that engineered last year's successful ballot issue killing Senate Bill 5, the Republican-passed law restricting the bargaining power of public employee unions.

Ms. Turcer credited We Are Ohio more for helping with volunteer manpower than financial help.

If successful, voters will be asked to approve a constitutional amendment creating a nonpartisan commission to redraw congressional and state legislative districts, usually after each U.S. Census.

The commissioners would be largely selected by a panel of judges. Elected and nonelected government officials, their families, and major political donors could not serve. The commission's first mission will be to redo, using the new criteria, the district boundaries adopted last year in processes controlled by Republicans.

State Rep. Matt Huffman (R., Lima), who was heavily involved in the 2011 remapping process, agrees that reform is needed but said the Voters First proposal isn't it.

"They want to redraw new districts by 2014," he said. "This group didn't like what happened, so they're hitting the reset button. This is a Democratic Party-led effort."

He said he hopes redistricting will be addressed when a rare constitutional modernization committee meets to discuss various proposed changes to the state constitution, assuming voters don't instead opt for a full-fledged constitutional convention.

"This [ballot issue] says that, if you participated in the political process in the previous three years, you can't do anything," Mr. Huffman said. "By one count, it's estimated that this would eliminate three-quarters of Ohioans from serving on this.

"I think people who have participated in the political process -- township trustees, school boards -- are the kinds of people who are engaged in the process and should be involved, not people who don't want to participate," he said.

Currently, lawmakers adopt a new map for congressional districts as they would any other bill that would be signed by the governor. A panel consisting of the governor, state auditor, secretary of state, and two lawmakers of opposite parties draw maps for 99 state House and 33 Senate districts.

"We want to replace the current system where the politicians draw their own lines," said Ann Henkener of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, part of the Voters First coalition.

"They've kind of rigged the system. They choose their voters, including where their donors live and including trying to make districts in preparation for themselves to run next time. … It really does not have a lot to do with what makes sense for the voters."

Although numerous petitions are in circulation that could affect such things as gay marriage, abortion, medical marijuana, and unionization, the remapping issue was the only one expected to clear the first hurdle by today's deadline for this year's election.

If certified for the ballot, it will join one other statewide issue -- an automatic, once-every-two-decades question as to whether voters want to convene a constitutional convention.



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