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Published: Saturday, 10/15/2011

Ohio Supreme Court allows voter referendum on redistricting law


COLUMBUS — A bill setting new U.S. House districts in Ohio can be put before voters despite efforts by Republicans to block a referendum, the state Supreme Court ruled late last night.

In a 7-0 decision, the court ordered Secretary of State Jon Husted to accept signatures submitted by Democrats seeking to get a repeal issue on the 2012 ballot.

Senate Republicans had appropriated funds to boards of elections in the bill in an effort to make the law effective immediately, which would disallow any referendum effort.

Laws go into effect 90 days after passage with some exceptions, including those that make “appropriations for the current expenses of the state government and state institutions.” But the court ruled the appropriations in the redistricting bill don’t meet required criteria.

The justices all agreed in the ruling, with Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger agreeing with the judgment, but not the written opinion.

Ohioans for Fair Districts, the group seeking the referendum, says it will ask the court to restart the 90-day timeline to collect signatures for a referendum effort.

“We applaud this unanimous ruling that makes clear that the people of Ohio can exercise their right to stop these unfair congressional maps,” state Rep. Kathleen Clyde of Kent, a member of the committee, said.

“We’re not debating the legality of this,” John McClelland, a spokesman for state Senate Republicans, said. “Maybe people don’t agree with the lines or don’t like the lines, but they are constitutional, and they are legal.”

Husted spokesman Matt McClellan said the office was reviewing its options. “This certainly throws a monkey wrench into the filing deadline for congressional offices,” he said.

The deadline for congressional candidates to file is Dec. 7, but the 90-day waiting period for enactment and referendum efforts means a map won’t be in place by that time.

“Statehouse Republicans now have a choice: They can come back to the drawing board and produce fair maps with bipartisan support, or they can create widespread uncertainty in our next election,” Ms. Clyde said.

The map, which Republican Gov. John Kasich signed into law last month, has been widely derided by Democrats and voter groups who say the GOP gerrymandered the lines to protect their control of Ohio’s congressional delegation.

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