New way to draw Ohio political maps on fall ballot

JULIE CARR SMYTH AP Statehouse Correspondent Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Ohio voters next month will decide whether the state should move forward with a proposal to change the process for redrawing its political districts.

Debate over Issue 2 has been contentious. It proposes a 12-member commission of state residents to re-draw Ohio's legislative and congressional maps every 10 years.

Currently, the state Legislature draws the U.S. House districts, and the five-member state apportionment board draws legislative districts. The governor, secretary of state, auditor and two legislative appointees make up the apportionment board.

There's broad agreement that Ohio's system needs repair, but considerable disagreement about whether Issue 2 offers the right fix.

Voters First, which supports the plan, argues that there's too much self-interest in the current process.

"This is a very simple plan. It ends the corrupt system we have today that lets politicians design their own districts," said Sandy Theis, a spokeswoman for the labor-backed coalition. "It will take that power away from them and give it to an independent citizens' commission that would have to do all its business in public."

The first nine members of the commission would be selected by lottery from 42 applicants placed into Republican, Democratic and unaffiliated pools by a panel of appeals court judges. The first nine members selected would pick the other three.

Protect Your Vote Ohio, the opposition campaign, says the lengthy constitutional amendment is rife with risky unknowns. It closely resembles a commission that California voters approved in 2010.

"While you have a process (in Ohio) now that's accountable to taxpayers because it's conducted by elected officials, voters would have no recourse in terms of holding these commissioners accountable or for repealing their decisions," said spokesman Carlo LoParo.

Opponents believe unaffiliated commissioners would be particularly susceptible to political pressure at map-drawing time. The Ohio State Bar Association and Ohio Judicial Conference oppose the issue out of concern that appellate judges also would be vulnerable to political pressure.

Theis said the concern is misplaced.

"There have been dozens of the state's top legal and constitutional scholars who signed an open letter that explained that OSBA's concerns are totally misguided," she said. "They've done a great disservice because they've entered the political arena and peddled inaccurate information."

The feud between the two sides has carried over to the Ohio Elections Commission and the state Ballot Board, pitting its largely Democratic backers against largely Republican opponents. Republicans have drawn Ohio's U.S. House maps for 20 years, and its legislative maps for 30.

Opponents include the Ohio Republican Party, Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Right to Life and state associations of CPAs, retail merchants, and farmers. Supporters include the League of Women Voters, NAACP, ProgressOhio, Ohio Citizen Action, Planned Parenthood and the Ohio Council of Churches.

Another ballot issue, called Issue 1, asks voters whether they'd like to call a convention to "revise, alter, or amend" the Ohio Constitution. Such a convention would include discussion of redistricting and term limits and a cleanup of existing constitutional language, among other tasks.

The state's governing document emerged from the state's first constitutional convention in Chillicothe in 1802. It was revisited at conventions in 1851 and 1912.

Under state law, the question of a constitutional convention comes before voters every two decades. Four previous ballot issues calling for a convention have been rejected. There has been no significant support or opposition campaign this year.

The map-drawing and constitutional convention issues are on the Nov. 6 ballot.

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Online:

Voters First Ohio (pro Issue 2): http://www.votersfirstohio.com

Protect Your Vote Ohio (anti Issue 2): http://www.VoteNoOn2.com

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