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Bipartisan group backs plan to shift redistricting power

A bipartisan group of political heavyweights yesterday threw their support behind a proposed ballot initiative that would strip the Legislature of its constitutional power to redraw district lines.

The group, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick, current Republican Party executive director Tim O'Brien, and former governor Michael Dukakis, endorsed a ballot proposal they say would put an end to political gerrymandering and make the process of redrawing 160 House districts and 40 Senate districts more open and fair.

''In a healthy democracy, the voters choose representatives," Patrick said. ''In the system we have, the representatives choose the voters. That's upside down."

The Fair Districts Campaign hopes to place the proposal on the 2008 ballot. The group needs 65,825 signatures and the votes of 50 lawmakers this session to advance their proposal to the ballot. Campaign officials said yesterday that they believe they have gathered between 10,000 and 20,000.

Attorney General Thomas Reilly and Republican Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healeyreleased statements indicating support.

The proposed constitutional amendment would place redistricting authority in the hands of a seven-member commission.

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