Ohio redistricting: Groups ready to change the process

By MARC KOVACC-N Capital Bureau Published:

COLUMBUS -- Groups unhappy with how state lawmakers drew Ohio's new congressional district lines hope to launch a ballot initiative next year, aimed at changing the process in the future to make it nonpartisan.

But they say they'll need to raise enough money -- potentially upward of $5 million -- to run a successful campaign to amend the state constitution and ensure future congressional and legislative districts aren't set by politicians.

"The state legislature has left nothing but a big lump of coal in the stockings of all Ohio's citizens," said Dan Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State University. "And the only one with a gift under their tree this year are a few politicians and the party that is dominant in Ohio at the moment."

Tokaji, OSU political science professor Dick Gunther and Ohio Citizen Action's Catherine Turcer spoke to reporters Wednesday, about a week after lawmakers OK'd new congressional district lines and reset the state's primary to one day in March rather than dual elections in March and June.

The GOP-controlled legislature signed off on the new maps after Democrats launched a referendum effort to counter earlier versions passed in September.

Many Democrats voted for the new plan, which included the creation of a task force to study and recommend changes to Ohio's redistricting process. And the minority party has decided not to challenge the new boundaries.

Opponents said Wednesday that the new maps are just as bad -- if not worse -- than the previous ones, giving Republicans a lopsided 12-4 majority among the state's congressional districts.

"This was a disgrace to our democracy, and the fact that this was a sweetheart deal between Republicans and some Democrats doesn't make it any better," Tokaji said, adding that he, Gunther and others are working on a ballot issue to create an independent citizens commission to draw new district lines next year for the 2014 elections and after future decennial censuses.

He added, "The state legislature cannot be trusted to either draw the lines or to propose meaningful redistricting reform."

Gunther said initial fund raising would focus on sources other than the two major political parties.

"Initially, we will be limiting our approach to those good government foundations that do in fact support the improvement of American democracy," he said. "We have scrupulously avoided any kind of contamination by being associated with one political party or another, and we will continue to do that."

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