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OHIO Suit filed to prevent election amendments



Published: Fri, August 5, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



One proposal would lower campaign contributions limits to state candidates.

By JEFF ORTEGA

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

COLUMBUS -- Opponents of three election-reform state constitutional amendments proposed to be on the ballot this November went to court Thursday to try and stop the process.

Opponents, calling themselves Ohio First and led by former Ohio Senate President Richard H. Finan, filed suit in the Ohio Supreme Court to block the proposed amendments that would change the way in which state legislative and congressional districts are drawn, lower political campaign contribution limits and create an independent state board to monitor elections.

Opponents say petitions circulated by Reform Ohio Now, the group pushing the proposed amendments, are defective by not showing the current language of the Ohio Constitution as well as the proposed new language.

"The stricken language is not part of this petition," Finan said. Finan, who was a Republican state senator from Cincinnati from 1978 to 2002 and left the chamber as its president, said court precedent for 85 years has required showing the language that would be changed on petitions as well as the proposed new language.

The suit names as defendant Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican and the state's chief elections officer, and seeks a court order preventing the state from filing petitions supporting the constitutional amendments.

Amendment support

Amendment backers said they have at least 450,000 signatures. They must file at least 322,899 valid signatures by Wednesday to qualify for the Nov. 8 ballot.

Scarlett Bouder, communications director for Reform Ohio Now, said her organization has broad support from all areas of the state.

"If any group dares to question the logic of their own constituents, they do so at their own peril," Bouder said.

She said Reform Ohio Now's members include the Ohio AFL-CIO, Ohio Federation of Teachers, Portage County Democratic Coalition and Wayne County Network for Progressive Democracy.

Republicans dominate both houses of the Legislature, controlling the Ohio House 60 to 39 and the Ohio Senate 22 to 11. Republicans also outnumber Democrats on the state's congressional delegation, 12 to 6.

Republicans also dominated the state Apportionment Board in 2001, which is made up of the governor, state auditor, secretary of state and one legislative member of each of the political parties. The board draws the Ohio House and Senate district lines after each decennial census to reflect population shifts.

State lawmakers draw boundary lines for Ohio's congressional districts.

Proposed changes

Reform Ohio Now is proposing to create an independent board to draw boundaries for legislative and congressional districts.

Another proposed amendment would limit individual political campaign contributions to $2,000 for statewide candidates and $1,000 to legislative candidates and require full disclosure.

Under a recently passed measure, the Ohio Legislature quadrupled most campaign contribution limits, raising them to $10,000 from $2,500, an action criticized by some who say the limits end up flooding the system with excessive amounts of special-interest dollars.

A third proposed amendment would create a bi-partisan board to administer elections in Ohio. Currently, the Secretary of State is the state's chief elections officer.

Ohio First's lawsuit remains pending. Finan said if opponents of the ballot measures fail to stop them in court, the group would work to defeat the amendments at the ballot.




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