JEFF ORTEGA Reform issues on ballot will open ad wars



COLUMBUS -- With four proposed initiatives that backers say would reform the state's election system cleared for the November statewide ballot, the campaign to win the hearts and minds of Ohioans will soon be in full swing.
Reform Ohio Now, the group with ties to organized labor and other groups that's backing the proposed amendments, is raising money to get its message out.
And Ohio First, the Republican-connected group opposing the proposed measures, has kicked off its campaign. In other words: Get ready for the advertising blitzes. The stakes could be high, particularly for Republicans who control every non-judicial statewide office, both houses of the Legislature and the Ohio Supreme Court.
If the proposed state constitutional amendments are successful, they would:
UCreate a five-member commission to draw what backers say would be competitive state legislative and federal congressional districts.
ULower individual political contribution limits to $1,000 for a state legislative candidate and $2,000 for a statewide candidate.
UGive the secretary of state's elections duties to a nine-member state elections board to oversee Ohio's voting system.
UAllow no-fault absentee voting.
Officials with Reform Ohio Now say they'll be concentrating on grassroots efforts for the time being.
For example, the group is organizing volunteers to soon deliver 30,000 pro-amendment fliers door-to-door, Reform Ohio Now officials say. Depending on how fundraising goes, Reform Ohio Now officials say, they could also try and put on television advertising as well. Meanwhile, state Rep. Kevin DeWine, a suburban Dayton Republican and an Ohio First volunteer, said he anticipates his group to be airing television ads.
DeWine said his group will also continue to work to build its coalition and on fundraising.
Busy two months
"We have a lot of work to do in the next two months," DeWine says. Recently, a state appeals court rejected an Ohio First attempt to block the proposed amendments from the statewide ballot, dismissing allegations that the state exceeded its authority by not instructing county elections boards to reject signatures on petition forms circulated by out-of-state residents.
The Ohio Supreme Court last month turned back an Ohio First lawsuit that alleged that some Reform Ohio Now petition forms were invalid because they failed to highlight the constitutional language that would be stricken.
Reform Ohio Now submitted petitions with 520,789 signatures to place the issue before voters, of which 353,094 were found to be valid from registered voters. They needed 322,899 valid signatures for the issues to qualify for the ballot.
Also recently, a good-government group has said it backs two of the proposed four amendments.
The Ohio League of Women Voters said it endorses the proposals for no-fault, absentee voting and for revamping how state legislative and federal congressional districts are drawn.
But the league is against the creation of the special board to oversee elections, saying the proposed board would be too large and doesn't have clear authority.
League officials said the organization had no position on the proposal that would reduce campaign contribution limits. Reform Ohio Now has raised about $1.2 million in support of their efforts, with most of those funds raised from out of state sources. DeWine wouldn't get into specifics of Ohio First's fundraising. "I won't tell you we won't try to raise money out of Ohio," DeWine said recently.
With all of the posturing expected to emerge in the coming weeks on the proposed constitutional amendments, voters will have the ultimate responsibility from separating the proverbial wheat from the chaff.
X Jeff Ortega is The Vindicator's correspondent in Columbus.

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