The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News October 14, 2005

Nov. 8 ballot issues may change Ohio politics
Ballot issues hotly debated

In November, Oberlin voters will have to decide on a series of ballot items to change Ohio’s state constitution, presented by the political action group Reform Ohio Now. State Issues Two, Three, Four and Five respectively could potentially change the way people can vote, the campaign finance system, the way congressional and legislative districts are drawn and how elections are overseen.

These proposed amendments to the Ohio constitution were the subject of a spirited debate at First Church last Tuesday.

Oberlin politics professor Ron Kahn moderated the debate, organized by the League of Women Voters and the First Church Outreach Committee. The case for the amendments was presented by Edward Jerse, campaign director of Reform Ohio Now, law professor at Case Western University and former state representative.

Robert Rousseau, chairman of the Lorain County Republican Party and the Lorain County Board of Elections, argued against the proposed changes to the existing political system.

Jerse argued that the ballot items would repair a “legislative and election process that is dysfunctional...[where] not one legislator or congressman lost.”

Rousseau cautioned that though Reform Ohio Now’s plans “sounded good,” they should be subject to careful scrutiny since the “Committee on Public Safety,” which oversaw the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, also “sounded pretty good.”

Jerse specifically described Issue Two as “no fault absentee balloting...that will avoid long lines” at polling places, such as the ones that afflicted Oberlin in 2004, by letting voters mail in their ballots before the election.

Rousseau criticized voting by mail as an opportunity to “vote early and vote often [because] it lets you potentially cast a ballot and go to the polls and vote again.”

He added that voting by mail would “cost taxpayers quite a bit more money,” since the State would pay for postage.

Issue Three would restrict the size and source of campaign donation and “broaden the base people have to go to” when funding their campaigns, said Jerse.

Rousseau warned that limits on fundraising would empower wealthy candidates at the expense of others.

“If you are rich, you can spend as much money as you want, and if you are not rich, we have all these stipulations that we have to follow,” he said.

Rousseau charged that the campaign finance reform amendment would “impose limits on all special interests groups but one,” meaning labor unions, since it would allow dues-paying organizations of small donors to contribute to political campaigns.

In response, Jerse said, “This bill is not designed specifically for unions, it is for any small group.”

According to Jerse, Issue Four would create bipartisan redistricting boards to make the districts for Congress and the legislature competitive.

He criticized the current system, saying, “If you control two or three statewide offices you can capture the legislature and congressional delegation.”

Under existing Ohio law, the secretary of state, a partisan-elected official, oversees elections.

“[It’s like] having a referee who is also a cheerleader for one of the teams,” said Jerse.

He said in place of the Secretary of State, Issue Five would put elections under the supervision of a “nonpartisan” Board of Elections, applying to the state level “[the way] it is done in all 88 counties” of Ohio.

But Rousseau was also critical of Issues Four and Five. Rousseau said the changes would “take away your right to vote” and constitute “disenfranchisement” because they would replace an elected official with appointed boards. Issue Four’s requirement that congressional and legislative districts be drawn for maximum possible competitiveness would limit the representation minorities would receive, because “minority districts would be sacrificed for competitive districts.”

Jerse said Issue Four would not damage the political power of minorities and the Congressional Black Caucus had endorsed nonpartisan redistricting.

Rousseau countered that Issue Four could harm the prospects of third parties because districts made competitive for Democrats and Republicans would not necessarily be competitive for independent candidates.

“All these charter amendments are supported by Democrat organizations,” he said, adding that the ballot items were not as nonpartisan as their supporters claimed. He postulated that these organizations were only supporting changes to election and campaign finance because the Democratic Party was out of power.

A complete copy of November’s ballot issues and of “nonpartisan pros and cons” is available on the Ohio League of Women Voter’s website.


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