The effort to put Ohio’s congressional and General Assembly redistricting power in the hands of a citizen board now has organized opposition.
The political action committee Protect Your Vote Ohio is the first formal opposition to Voters First, a coalition of nonpartisan groups including the League of Women Voters of Ohio formed in response to new boundaries drafted by the Republican-controlled Apportionment Board and General Assembly last year.
The group has registered with the Ohio secretary of state’s office. David Langdon, a Cincinnati-based conservative attorney often involved in political matters, is listed as its treasurer.
Protect Your Vote solicited the help of state lobbyists Tuesday during a private event at the Capital Club in Columbus, according to an invitation obtained by the Dayton Daily News. The campaign organizers listed on the invitation include fundraisers and others with ties to the Republican elected officials who had a hand in drafting the new boundaries.
Campaign Manager Brandon Lynaugh declined Tuesday to comment on the fundraiser and other Protect Your Vote activities.
One of the finance consultants listed on the invitations, Ray DiRossi, was paid $105,000 to assist elected officials in drawing the boundaries last year. Another consultant, Pamela Hashem, is a major fundraiser for U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester Twp.
Voters First chairwoman Catherine Turcer said she wasn’t surprised by opposition from “political insiders who are trying to protect their power and their own party.”
“This is about a winner-take-all system and it doesn’t matter if those winners are Democrats or Republicans,” Turcer said. “We have a situation in which our politicians go into back rooms and rig these district lines so they select the voters instead of the voters selecting them.”
If the ballot issue passes in November, any Ohioan not related to or affiliated with a political candidate, who has voted in two of the last three elections, could apply for a spot on the 12-member Ohio Independent Redistricting Commission. A panel of eight state appeals court judges would select all but three members after political party leaders have the opportunity to each eliminate up to three applicants.
The commission will draw boundaries in a way that minimizes splitting counties and other municipalities and reflects voter demographics and history. All meetings, documents and decisions would be made public.
“If we have good, competitive districts where our communities are as close together, we’re going to have more politicians accountable to us,” Turcer said.
In a press conference across town from the Protect Your Vote event, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett called the proposed citizen redistricting commission a “shadow government” exempt from ethics laws and acting on behalf of the Ohio Democratic Party and liberal organizations.
“While it is clear that the process by which we draw our legislative district maps needs improvement, this must be done in a way that allows for bipartisan transparency, sound, well-thought-out decision making, and, above all, accountability to Ohio’s electorate,” Bennett said. “The Voters First proposal is clearly none of these, and is therefore plainly the wrong approach.”
Voters First has been backed by labor unions, the NAACP and the Ohio Libertarian Party, among others, and Turcer said the group plans to fully disclose donors in an August report.
Bennett said party officials have found discrepancies in some of the 450,533 signatures Voters First submitted to the secretary of state’s office two weeks ago.
The Ohio GOP posted two videos online last week that show paid circulators collecting signatures from someone who said he lived in a different state and someone who wanted to sign for his brother. GOP Executive Director Matt Borges said the videos were sent in an email and not taped by anyone affiliated by the party.
Turcer said those circulators were fired immediately.
Counties are verifying the signatures against voter registration records and the secretary of state’s office has the final say. If the count is below the required 385,253 signatures in 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties, Voters First has 10 days to collect more.