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Published: Sunday, 9/30/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Ohioans to weigh in on legislative redistricting

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Ohio voters are being asked whether they want to take the inherently political process of redrawing congressional and state legislative districts out of the hands of lawmakers and hand it to a new panel that would be directly or indirectly appointed by judges.

They will take justice into their hands as they elect three of the seven people who sit on the state Supreme Court.

And, as they have once every 20 years since 1912, voters will decide whether they want to hold a constitutional convention to reopen the state’s most critical but ever-changing legal document.

Absentee and in-person early voting will begin Tuesday, and Oct. 9 marks the last day to register for this election.

State Issue 2:

Redistricting

For the third time since 1981, voters will weigh in on a proposed constitutional amendment that would revamp the process by which congressional, Ohio Senate, and state House districts are redrawn, a process typically done once a decade to reflect population changes in the latest U.S. Census.

Voters said “no” the first two times, and if Republicans, who controlled the 2011 remap, have their own way, they’ll say “no” a third time.

Under the current language of the Ohio Constitution, state lawmakers redrew the state’s 16 congressional districts and Gov. John Kasich signed the new map into law as they would any other bill. At least on paper, that map would be expected to produce a 12-4 majority in Ohio’s congressional delegation after this election.

The state apportionment board, meanwhile, redrew the 99 Ohio House and 33 state Senate districts. That panel — consisting of the governor, secretary of state, auditor, and one lawmaker from each side of the aisle — was 4-1 Republican.

The proposed constitutional amendment would replace both processes with a single citizens commission whose 12 members would be directly appointed by a bipartisan group of appellate judges or indirectly by those the judges named.

Elected and nonelected government officials, lobbyists, big campaign donors, and their immediate family members would be among those excluded from service on the commission. The panel would be required to adopt a map that upholds federal voting rights law, keeps the most governmental units intact, creates the most politically competitive but geographically compact districts, and best represents the political makeup of the state as a whole.

A vote of seven of the 12 members would be needed to adopt a map, and their failure to do so would kick the issue to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The coalition behind the ballot issue — including such groups as the League of Women Voters of Ohio, Common Cause, Ohio Citizen Action, and Planned Parenthood — argue their proposal would remove much of the politics from the process and prevent lawmakers from choosing their voters rather than the other way around.

Opponents of the plan — the Ohio Republican Party and several business groups that traditionally back the GOP — also generally oppose the current process, but they argue the proposed new commission would create a new bureaucracy. The proposal also is opposed by some legal groups that don’t like the idea of involving judges in the process.

Ohio Supreme Court

A Democrat has not won an election for Ohio Supreme Court in a dozen years, but Justice Yvette McGee Brown hopes to change that. The only Democrat on the bench is there because former Gov. Ted Strickland appointed his former running mate to a vacancy on the bench as one of his last acts before leaving office.

She’s now asking voters to ratify that decision, allowing her to complete the two years left in the associate justice term that Maureen O’Connor vacated when voters promoted her to chief justice in 2010.

Republicans are offering Butler County Domestic Relations Judge Sharon Kennedy.

Justices Terrence O’Donnell and Robert Cupp are asking voters to re-elect them to their second full six-year terms. They face challenges from state Sen. Mike Skindell (D., Lakewood) and former Warren-based appellate Judge William O’Neill, respectively.

State Issue 1: Constitutional Convention

Ohio voters have been asked once every two decades for the last century whether they want to hold a full-fledged convention to make changes to the state constitution, and every 20 years they’ve said “no.”

The last time the question came up in 1962, 61 percent of voters rejected the idea. The question now is whether dissatisfaction with government in general as reflected in polls might cause voters to think differently this time.

While voters have not shown an interest in conventions in the past, the Ohio Constitution has hardly been stagnant over the years. Thanks to Ohio’s voter initiative process, the constitution has been used, among other things, to legalize four Las Vegas-style casinos, ban same-sex marriage, raise the minimum wage, and express dissatisfaction with federal health-care reform.

The General Assembly has voted to create a constitutional modernization committee that will meet regardless of what voters decide on Nov. 6.

The question is whether the mission of reviewing the document and recommending changes that would have to be put to voters later will occur in conjunction with or instead of an all-out convention.

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



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