Ohio Democrats Fighting to Change Election Process

Ohio Critics of G.O.P. Start Battle to Change Election Process (NYT)

Critics of the Republican grip on Ohio politics filed petitions on Tuesday that seek a statewide vote on three constitutional amendments that would overturn the way elections are run and strip elected officials of their power to draw legislative districts. The move, by the group Reform Ohio Now, is an effort to tap into sentiment across the country to remove political influence from the mechanics of elections. The movement has been sparked in part by partisan lines that are sharply reducing electoral competition in Congress and by efforts by political outsiders like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California to upend the established order.

The Ohio group is backed by so-called good-government organizations like Common Cause, though Republicans insist it is little more than a front for disgruntled Democrats frozen out of power. If its petitions are successful, a vote on the proposed amendments would be held in November in a campaign that Republicans and Democrats predicted would draw intense interest and millions of dollars from outside the state.

“People are fed up,” Scarlett Bouder, a leader of Reform Ohio Now, said in a telephone news conference from Columbus, where the petitions were filed. “They want change.”

The most significant of the amendments would effectively strip Republican elected officials of their control over redistricting, the reverse of an effort in California intended primarily for Democratic lawmakers that is backed by Mr. Schwarzenegger, who himself came into office through an recall election. In both states, redistricting would be handed to an independent panel appointed by Republicans and Democrats, though a vote on the California measure is likely to be delayed until next year because of a legal challenge. A California appeals court, in a 2-to-1 decision, sided on Tuesday with opponents of the redistricting measure, ruling that it should not appear on the November ballot. The proponents are appealing to the State Supreme Court.

While officially nonpartisan, the Ohio group is dominated by Democrats and independents who have complained about the conduct of Republican officials in the state as well as about the handling of the presidential election in Ohio last fall by J. Kenneth Blackwell, the Republican secretary of state who is seeking his party’s nomination for governor.

I haven’t studied the judicial history of these types of measures but they would appear, on their face, to violate the U.S. Constitution:

Article I, Section 4, Clause 1: The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.

It has always been understood that the state legislatures have the right to draw district lines, with several limitations that the courts and Congress have imposed. It is true that some state legislatures have, effectively, delegated their authority to independent bodies with legislative approval essentially pro forma. If the legislature is truly stripped of this power, though, it would seem obviously unconstitutional.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2006, General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Matt says:

    It is my understanding that the “independent” panel that would be put in place would just happen to end up with 2 Democrats and 1 Republican member.

  2. Iron Lungfish says:

    The bill is coming from the state legislature; thus, the state legislature is still the one setting “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives,” and could in theory pass another bill down the line restoring its power to gerrymander districts as much as it wants to. This is perfectly constitutional.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Iron: Are you saying the NYT article is wrong?

    Critics of the Republican grip on Ohio politics filed petitions on Tuesday that seek a statewide vote on three constitutional amendments that would overturn the way elections are run and strip elected officials of their power to draw legislative districts.

    This is not coming from the legislature but rather a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution. And unless Ohio’s constitution is quite unusual, a simple vote from the legislature can not overturn it.

  4. Change Election Process

    District boundaries should be drawn by a computer, that has no idea of how many Democratic or Republican voters there are in a particular area, but where it just tries to draw compact districts with major streets and other geographical features as bo…

  5. paladin says:

    As a resident of Illinois (will the NCAA or the PC police make us change the name of our state?) in order to change the way districts are divided requires 3/5 of the Legislature to agree to propose a Constitutional amendment to be submitted to voters. As it stands Democrats control all three branches of government, and most are from the Chicago area. Snowball’s chance comes to mind here. But we need change.The Economist wrote about my congressional district and said “In a normal democracy, voters choose their representatives. In America, it is rapidly becoming the other around.” Also in the Economist: “Weirdly shaped districts like (this) are signs that a crime has been committed.”My Congressional representative is in the advanced stages of Parkinsons. He can barely communicate, yet we keep returning him to DC, where I’m sure his unelected aides do the work he was elected to do. It just makes me crazy!

  6. NIF says:

    The Opposite of Sleeping In

    Today’s dose of NIF – News, Interesting & Funny … halfway there!

  7. one bit shy says:

    Perhaps I misunderstand, but I thought both the Ohio and California initiatives applied to state legislative districts as well as Congressional – and that it was really the state districting that was the political driver.

  8. Herb says:

    Democrats, I have some cheese to go along with your WHINE.

    Or, do you need a diaper change? is that why you are crying ?

  9. mark says:

    Democrats, I have some cheese to go along with your WHINE

    Aww, poor Republicans, scared of a fair fight. Always have to rig the system. Sheesh.

  10. Even the NY Times Gets It

    This time, it is The Times that admits that the left-wing groups that are trying to change the Ohio election process are partisan hacks