Decides in favor of communities’ right to initiative; bars chief elections officer from keeping duly qualified initiatives off the ballot – even those involving fracking
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 16, 2015
Tish O’Dell, Ohio Community Organizer
COLUMBUS, OH: Today, the people’s constitutional right to vote on local County Charter initiatives was upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court. The Court ruled that Ohio Secretary of State John Husted – who claimed “unfettered authority” to keep Home Rule county charter initiatives off the ballot – has no such prerogative.
On August 13th, Mr. Husted blocked citizens from voting on Home Rule Charter initiatives in three counties, declaring, “I find nothing to materially limit the scope of my legal review,” including ruling on the substance of the initiatives. The measures included provisions on fracking infrastructure development, alarming the oil and gas industry. Mr. Husted handed them a victory in his decision to remove the measures from the ballot. In doing so, he trampled on the rights of the people. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) filed a lawsuit against the Ohio Secretary of State on behalf of community members in Athens, Medina, and Fulton Counties, seeking to restore the initiatives to the November ballot.
In addition to barring Mr. Husted from keeping community measures off the ballot based on substantive review of the content, the Court also ruled that, because the charter initiatives did not create a new form of government, they cannot be on the ballot this November. Communities had kept the existing governmental structure intact, while adding initiative and referendum powers to residents.
CELDF community organizer Tish O’Dell stated, “Athens, Medina, and Fulton Counties have triumphed against a government official claiming ‘unfettered authority’ to rule on the content of the people’s initiatives – a dangerous threat to democracy. The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled on behalf of the people, safeguarding their inalienable right to advance and vote on their own initiatives.”
Dick McGinn, Athens County Board member of the Ohio Community Rights Network – a partner organization of CELDF – added, “The Ohio Supreme Court – rather than being influenced by the oil and gas industry – stood by the people’s rights. Communities across the state are celebrating this decision, and are ready to get to work to draft Home Rule county charter initiatives that meet the Supreme Court’s requirements.”
Added Kathie Jones of Sustainable Medina County, “We’re also fully prepared for attempts by the Secretary of State and the oil and gas industry to try and find other reasons to keep future measures off the ballot. But, the people will not quit fighting for their inalienable right to local self-government and the right to protect their health, safety and welfare, even if that means amending the state constitution itself.”
Through grassroots organizing and the practice of public interest law, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund works with communities across the country to establish Community Rights to democratic, local self-governance and sustainability. CELDF has assisted nearly 200 communities to ban shale gas drilling and fracking, factory farming, water privatization, and other threats, and eliminate corporate “rights” when they violate community and nature’s rights.