Ohio Democrats Fighting to Change Election Process
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.