by Marc Kovac
Capital Bureau Chief
Columbus -- Ohio's chief elections officer wants state lawmakers to regroup on redistricting and election law reform and pass compromise packages with bipartisan support.
Which is probably easier said than done.
Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted offered his thoughts on the issues during a post-election panel discussion last week, where there was common sentiment that changes are needed but also an acknowledgment of the challenges that will come with the process.
Both issues prompted fierce debate and campaign-trail rhetoric.
On the redistricting front, Issue 2 failed by a wide margin in Nov. 6's general election, but lawmakers and party leaders have said they hope changes to the process still can be made.
"There is some urgency now ... because the silver lining in the Issue 2 debate is that no one defended the current system," Mike Curtin, associate publisher emeritus at The Columbus Dispatch and Democratic state representative-elect for a capital city district, said during the panel talk with Husted.
The secretary of state added, "This is something that must change in Ohio. It's just a matter of when and how ... because it is an outdated process that is leading to a toxic political environment ..."
Husted continues to advocate for the plan he offered as a state lawmaker, expanding the apportionment board from its current five members (governor, auditor, secretary of state and single legislative members representing both parties) to a seven-member board, with two additional legislative members from each political party. Any plan would require a five-member super majority, meaning the minority party would have to agree to it.
"Every time on this, people are trying to make end runs around the other party to get the thing done the way that they want it done," Husted said.
There are a few roadblocks to redistricting reform. Any potential changes would have to be approved by voters. Some lawmakers will disagree on whether the changes take effect in time for a mid-decennial census or during the next scheduled map shift.
"That is the single issue that will be hardest for members of the general assembly on a partisan basis to get over so that they can come to an agreement on what it should look like," Husted said.
Another is the nature of the public debate on the issue and barbs that were thrown by the opposing sides.
"... Both sides said a lot of tough things about each other ... that didn't exactly create a climate to get back to the table," Husted said.
On the election front, Husted defended his office's handling of the 2012 contest despite legal challenges and verbal attacks.
"We didn't have any major problems in this state," he said. "Early voting hit a record number because we gave everybody an equal shot of doing it, and I can tell you that the national media that we talked to [Nov. 6] said it was the most professional election operation that they'd seen."
But issues still remain, including how many days of early voting to allow and which provisional ballots to count. Those issues should be dealt with by the legislature, but not before the end of the year, Husted said.
"Let's find some common ground here," he said. "If this is about doing what's best for the voter, we can do that easily. If it's doing what's best for turnout models for each particular political party, then we can't."
He added, "Let's take a deep breath. Let's set this aside for the lame duck session. Let's get the leaders to sit down right now and say, OK, we're going to watch what we say about one another, we're going to tone it down and we're going to be reasonable about how we go about this ... Let's clean it up, let's start over, let's get it right."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.