Last updated: August 23. 2013 12:33PM - 185 Views

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LIMA — Now that a group has collected enough signatures to get its redistricting initiative on the statewide November ballot, it and opponents are gearing up for a fall fight.

Voters First collected enough signatures, more than 406,000, to qualify its proposed constitutional amendment for the ballot, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said Monday.

The issue would take drawing legislative and congressional district lines out of the hands of elected officials and place the job with an appointed 12-member commission.

A panel of court of appeals judges, no more than four of whom could be from any political party, would appoint people to the commission, four Democrats, four Republicans and four independents. A simple majority, seven votes, would be required to pass a decision.

“We don’t have any truly nonpartisan institutions in the state. We had to create one, with the best means possible ensuring commissioners who wouldn’t be wolves in sheep’s clothing, partisans pretending to be nonpartisans,” said Dan Tokaji, a Voters First board member and law professor at The Ohio State University.

While Voters First calls itself a nonpartisan group aligned with groups such as League of Women Voters, it has been largely bankrolled by left-leaning and labor organizations, according to published results.

Ohio Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, has opposed the proposal, saying Voters First is a left-wing organization with people disgruntled because district lines were drawn by Republicans. Huffman could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but in the past has spoken against the group’s idea.

“One of the biggest problems with their proposal is that it puts unaccountable people in charge of a process that is usually run by elected officials,” Huffman previously responded to Voters First efforts in Lima. “There are a lot of ways that the redistricting process can be and should be improved and some of those may be on the ballot in this year.”

Huffman was in charge of the redistricting process in Ohio this year that resulted in highly criticized, meandering districts and lawsuits fighting them. While the Republican-led group held hearings around the state on the redistricting, it also funded a self-described “bunker” in a hotel room where new maps were drawn.

Groups such as League of Women Voters and Common Cause have worked for decades, against both parties, for a more transparent, fair redistricting process, Tokaji said. However, this year’s effort from Republicans was “an ugly process from beginning to end, generating a map that nobody but a partisan politician could like. It was pretty obvious to everyone that the politicians currently in power were extraordinary greedy. It certainly makes this easier for us, but the roots of this go back much further than that.”

Both sides are gearing up grassroots and advertising campaigns for the fall.

“We think we have a message that rings trues with voters,” Tokaji said. “Voters have an instinctive sense that the political process is not working, at least not working for them.”

A group opposing the effort, Protect Your Vote, has formed, and can be found at www.protectyourvoteohio.com. The group has said Voters First would put redistricting in the hands of “un-elected bureaucrats,” who could not be removed from their posts and wouldn’t be required to comply with ethics rules. The amendment doesn’t mention funding or caps of funding, Protect Your Vote also said.

To see the proposed constitutional amendment, visit http://votersfirstohio.com/ballot-language.

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