Groups in Columbus and half a dozen other Ohio communities have filed suit in federal court after their efforts to place initiatives on local ballots were blocked by elections boards. Individuals representing ballot efforts in Youngstown and Toledo and Athens, Medina, Meigs and Portage counties joined the filing Friday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio’s Eastern Division in Youngstown. They’re hoping the federal court will do what state courts have not to date — rule that Ohio’s process for reviewing and potentially barring citizen-led initiatives from ballots is unconstitutional. “Just because it’s controversial or the government itself doesn’t particularly like the idea, that doesn’t mean the people shouldn’t have a right to vote on it,” said Tish O’Dell, Ohio community organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which is assisting the local groups with the legal challenge.
The suit names Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, his predecessor and current Lieutenant Gov. Jon Husted, and the elections boards in each community, including all four Franklin County members.
William Lyons and Gregory Thomas Pace, the two Columbus plaintiffs, are members of the Columbus Community Bill of Rights group, which has worked for several years to place its proposed initiative before voters “to establish a community bill of rights for water, soil and air protections and to prohibit gas and oil extraction and related activities and projects.” It proposes banning most oil and gas drilling and related activities in the city.
Last year, the effort was blocked by the Franklin County Board of Elections from placing their issue before voters in the November general election.