Republican, Democrat lead ballot campaign for overhaul of Ohio's political map-making process

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Two term-limited state lawmakers who worked across party lines to strike a bipartisan redistricting agreement this session are joining forces to get the deal approved by Ohio voters.

Republican state Rep. Matt Huffman, of Lima, and Democratic state Rep. Vernon Sykes, of Akron, say they'll serve as co-chairs of the Fair Districts for Ohio committee. The 2015 ballot campaign will ask voters to approve an overhaul of Ohio's system for drawing legislative districts that lawmakers approved and sent to the ballot earlier this month with support from both parties.

It's intended to give more balance to a political process criticized for allowing the party in power to gerrymander lines in favor of its own candidates.

The new plan 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 short-term map.

Huffman said scoring legislative victory with the proposal — versions of which had been years in negotiation — was not the end of the process.

"Vernon and I looked at each other about two days after it passed and said, 'Oh, yeah. We have to make sure this passes (the ballot)."

In a process called redistricting, Ohio alters boundaries of its legislative and congressional districts once per decade to reflect population shifts identified in the U.S. Census. Both political parties acknowledge flaws in Ohio's system in which state lawmakers draw U.S. House districts and a five-member state Apportionment Board that can be controlled by a single party creates legislative maps.

Sykes said in a statement that the plan that will be put before Ohio voters in 2015 represents months of work by those who "truly care about improving the current process" and "now it's time to make sure every Ohioan gets a chance to be part of fixing a broken system next November."

"Working with stakeholders and experts from both sides of aisle, we believe these changes create a system that will be more competitive, more transparent, fairer and one that will keep our communities together," he said.

Huffman said he and Sykes may split up duties along partisan lines, for instance with the Democrat making speeches to labor unions and the Republican to business groups.

"But all the decisions will be made by both of us," he said. "That's because we know that both Republicans and Democrats are needed for this to pass."

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