September 7, 2005

Ohio electoral changes challenged by Republicans

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - An appeals court in the key
electoral battleground of Ohio will hear on Thursday a
challenge to ballot measures that would allow voters to strip
the state's elected officials of control over electoral
redistricting and how elections are run.

Republican-led opponents of four proposed constitutional
amendments say they should not be on Ohio's ballot on November
8 on grounds that many people who collected the 330,000 voter
signatures on petitions in support of the referendum were from
outside Ohio.

Ohio has been pivotal in many national elections and was
seen as crucial to President George W. Bush's re-election.

Ohio law requires those circulating petitions to be from
the state so they can be subpoenaed if there are challenges,
said David Hopcraft, who represents Republicans challenging the

While the courts have made exceptions for petition
gatherers working for individual candidates, the same exception
does not apply to petition circulators backing issue
referendums, Hopcraft said.

Ohio's Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell
ratified the signatures this week. The Ohio court of appeals in
Columbus will hear the challenge.

One of the proposed amendments calls for creation of a
nonpartisan panel to replace elected officeholders in
determining the shape of electoral districts, which proponents
said will ensure more competitive races.

The other amendments would create a panel to run elections
in lieu of the secretary of state, reduce the limits on certain
campaign contributions and make it easier to obtain an absentee

Ohio has sided with every Republican elected president and
is closely divided politically.


Currently, 12 of Ohio's 18 seats in the U.S. House of
Representatives are controlled by Republicans, but political
observers say that could change if districts are redrawn.

"It's unknowable at this point" whether Democratic
candidates would gain seats if the amendments pass, said Keary
McCarthy, a spokesman for Reform Ohio Now, the organization
running the petition drive.

"The concept is to create competitive elections, not
landslide elections. In last year's elections for (state) house
and senate seats, the average margin of victory was 38
percent," he said.

While Republicans dominate Ohio's statewide offices and
both houses of the legislature, a series of scandals involving
Republican Gov. Bob Taft and a prominent fund-raiser may have
created an opening for Democratic groups to succeed in making
election-law changes.

"The people outside of Ohio running this think that the
political season is ripe for change, and maybe think they can
slip this by the voters," Hopcraft said.