- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Backers seeking voter approval this fall for a historic redistricting compromise in Ohio are facing the possibility that they’ll reach Election Day without the support of one of the state’s major political parties.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper told The Associated Press that the party wants assurances the issue achieves its intended consequences before issuing an endorsement. A screening committee is studying data modeling from different companies to determine how the new rules would affect future legislative elections.

“All I’m doing is the due diligence that has not been done on how these criteria will play out, and we will bring that result to our Executive Committee to make a decision,” Pepper said.

Fair Districts for Ohio formally launched its campaign Wednesday with support from a who’s who of Statehouse interest groups on right and left, including business, labor, environmental and good government groups as well as the Ohio Republican Party.

This marks the first time since Ohio’s Constitution was revised in the 1960s that a bipartisan solution on redistricting has been developed. Three other past attempts at redistricting reform failed overwhelmingly at the ballot, largely because one party supported and the other opposed.

At issue is political control of the General Assembly, which passes hundreds of laws each session affecting schools, parks, businesses, prisons, insurance coverage and numerous other areas of everyday life.

Democratic and Republican support for redistricting seemed all but guaranteed this time, after state lawmakers of both parties finally struck an agreeable compromise last year to send to voters.

The ballot measure substitutes a redistricting system criticized for fostering gerrymandering by the majority party with a process backers say is more fair, bipartisan and transparent. It establishes a seven-member commission made up of the governor, secretary of state, auditor and four legislative appointees to draw the lines. Two minority-party votes would be needed to adopt a 10-year legislative map. Without them, the majority could draw only a map lasting only four years.

Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, said in a statement that “meaningful reform to replace the fractured foundation on which our government is built is closer than ever.”

Republicans hold supermajorities in both Ohio’s legislative chambers. It’s been 30 years since Democrats controlled both, though a slight majority of voters in the perennial swing state affiliate with the party.

The campaign’s co-chairs, former state Reps. Matt Huffman and Vernon Sykes, acknowledge that support from both parties is key to the issue’s success.

“This isn’t going to pass unless both parties are endorsing this, unless both sides are in favor of this,” said Huffman, a Lima Republican. “That’s why it was critical that this went through the legislative process the way it did, and we passed it really overwhelmingly in both the House and the Senate.”

Sykes, an Akron Democrat, said he continues to work with Democrats to gain the party’s endorsement. There’s no organized opposition as yet.

Pepper appointed the nine-member screening committee in April to review the issue and make an endorsement recommendation to the 148-member executive committee. That’s not yet happened.

The National Committee for Effective Congress is one of the entities whose work has raised Democrats’ concerns. Their first model showed Democrats could never do better than a 45-54 minority in the Ohio House, even with a majority of voters and control of the map-drawing board.

The group, which is respected nationally and was founded by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1948, gets financial support from labor unions that have been accused of holding too close a rein on Ohio’s state party.

An analysis by Clarity Campaign Labs, a copy of which was obtained by the AP, found Democrats have several options under the new system to draw a map in their favor, while a Republican majority “could not create a map that is as partisan as the current map.”

The state GOP endorsed redistricting this spring. Republicans say they haven’t done modeling, and Huffman said modeling would be both premature and beside the point.

He said the new system - which would first affect maps in 2022 - “is about making the rules fair, not about who’s going to benefit on one side or the other.”

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https://fairdistrictsforohio.com

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