Ohio court ruling makes 2012 elections uncertain

The Ohio Supreme Court's Friday decision to let Democrats proceed with an effort to repeal the state's new Republican-drawn congressional map leaves the 2012 elections in legal limbo.

Candidates for Congress must file petitions to run by Dec. 7 - 90 days before the currently-planned March 6 primary. However, the districts they may hope to run for may no longer exist, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

In a 7-0 decision, the court ordered Secretary of State Jon Husted to accept signatures submitted by Democrats seeking to get a repeal issue on the 2012 ballot.

Senate Republicans had appropriated funds to boards of elections in the bill in an effort to make the law effective immediately, which would disallow any referendum effort. The court ruled that the appropriations in the redistricting bill didn't meet the required criteria to shield it from voter repeal.

If supporters of a repeal effort gather enough valid signatures to put it on the ballot, the new lines would be put on hold. Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern told the newspaper that he could guarantee that his group could gather the required signatures.

Candidates could be forced to run in a statewide primary where the top 16 Democrats would compete with the top 16 Republicans for Ohio's 16 U.S. House seats if the state General Assembly can't work out a map both parties agree on. Rep. Marcy Kaptur - the U.S. House's longest-serving Democratic congresswoman - told The Associated Press that she has already started campaigning and plans on running regardless of what the eventual districts look like, but she couldn't afford to run in a statewide race.

"(In a statewide race), people of limited means would be facing an onslaught of candidates funded by groups that (U.S. Supreme Court decision) Citizens United allows to fund anonymously in unlimited amounts," she said.

The GOP-drawn map had squeezed Kaptur and fellow Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich together in a district that stretched across the shore of Lake Erie from Toledo to Cleveland.

Kaptur said there is no reason a compromise map couldn't fairly represent Ohio voters political split, which is closer to 50/50 -or eight seats for either party. An analysis by a coalition of voter groups said that the map signed by Gov. John Kasich on Sept. 26 allocates 12 seats to Republicans and four to Democrats.

New congressional lines are drawn every 10 years to reflect population shift. Because of slow growth compared to other states, Ohio's representation in the U.S. House is being reduced from 18 seats to 16.

Republican legislative leaders are defending their map. Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder said in a written statement that the court's ruling would throw the 2012 elections into legal chaos and worried that unelected federal circuit court judges from neighboring states could impose a new map on Ohio voters.

Asked by The Enquirer if Ohio Republicans would try to reach a compromise with Democrats, Senate President Tom Niehaus said he would be holding a conference call with other GOP leaders and their legal counsel about what to do next.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)