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Published: 7/31/2012

Backers of remap petition confident of reaching ballot

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS -- Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment overhauling how Ohio redraws congressional and state legislative districts said they are "not just confident, but certain" that voters will be asked the question on Nov. 6.

They are equally certain opponents will fight them every step of the way.

"We know that politicians and their cronies are going to do everything that they can to stop us," said Dan Tokaji, an Ohio State University election law professor and board member of Voters First. "No one fights harder or meaner than a politician determined to hold onto his own power."

Voters First filed an additional 300,904 signatures of purported registered voters before Saturday night's deadline, adding to the roughly 466,000 previously filed. But county boards of election initially determined that only 254,625 of the original signatures were valid, about 130,000 shy of the 385,253 required. That was a validation rate of about 54 percent.

If the 54 percent validation rate is applied to the 300,904 new signatures filed Saturday, it would mean about 162,488 would be expected to survive scrutiny. That's still fairly tight given that the Ohio Republican Party has already been aggressively scrutinizing signatures.

"With all the fraud and cheating we witnessed to this point, we would be surprised if Ohio Voters First made it to the ballot in November," said Bob Bennett, party chairman. "They are just another special-interest snake in the grass, and sadly, they took a noble cause and twisted it for partisan gain."

Secretary of State Jon Husted has asked county election boards to complete their petition reviews by Monday.

Voters First, made up of groups such as the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, made the calculated decision late in the petition effort for an all-out push to qualify for this year's ballot, an uphill task given the much shorter time frame in which to work.

It tapped into the manpower network developed by We Are Ohio, the heavily labor and Democratic group that successfully used a petition effort to kill last year's GOP-passed law restricting the bargaining power of public-employee unions.

"People will be in charge of redistricting instead of politicians," said Ann Henkener, League director. "Voters in Ohio are ready to get rid of the rigged system in which politicians, lobbyists, and political insiders have the power. We need to replace it with an independent non-partisan citizens redistricting commission."

Redistricting is typically done once every decade to adjust legislative lines to reflect the latest U.S. Census, but the proposed constitutional amendment would provide for an immediate remap using the new process to replace the latest map adopted last year.

Currently, a new congressional map is passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor, like any other bill. State House and Senate districts are redrawn by a panel consisting of the governor, auditor, secretary of state, and two lawmakers of opposite parties.

By virtue of their numbers, both processes were controlled last year by Republicans. The new congressional map appears to set up a 12-4 GOP majority.

Proposals to reform the process legislatively from both sides of the aisle have stalled. The Voters First process would form a redistricting commission largely selected by a panel of judges. Government officials, their families, or major political donors couldn't serve.

Critics have argued that such a panel would be unaccountable to voters and too many Ohioans would be precluded from serving.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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