File protest against Athens Co Board of Elections for blocking qualified initiative



Tish O’Dell, Ohio Community Organizer

ATHENS, OHIO:  Today, members of the Athens County Bill of Rights Committee (ACBORC) hand delivered a formal protest against the Board of Elections (BOE). On July 8, the Board voted 4-0 to keep ACBORC’s Athens County Charter Initiative off the November ballot.

The proposed Charter was drafted with the help of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). County residents began working with CELDF in 2015 as the number of frack wastewater injection wells increased, threatening community water sources. The initiative establishes the right to local community self-government, and to clean air and water. Fracking waste disposal activities are banned as a violation of those rights.

The blocked measure meets Ohio Revised Code (ORC) and Ohio Constitution requirements. However, the BOE claims the charter is invalid. In their protest, ACBORC counters: “It is evident that the Athens County Prosecutor and/or the Board of Elections are wrong about the facts of what the Petition contains and surprisingly skewed in their interpretation of what a Charter Proposal must include.”

The protest addresses the Board’s claims that the Charter:

  • Does not alter the form of government in Athens County. There is no requirement that the “form” of government be changed in order to enact a Charter. Article X, § 3of the Ohio Constitution provides for a “charter form of government.” ORC Chapter 302 provides for an “alternative form of government.” Athens County residents are acting under Article X. As such, they are not required to change the form of government in order to enact a Charter.
  • Does not take the powers of the municipalities and townships and vest those powers with the county. The BOE chastises the petitioners for declining to exercise an option; however, an option is not a mandate. In addition, Cuyahoga and Summit Counties both have Charters. Neither of them removes powers from Cleveland and Akron and vests them in the county.
  • Relies on the ORC to determine qualifications and salaries of elected officials. The proposed Charter contains seven pages describing the form of the Athens County government, including the qualifications of each elected position. In addition, neither Summit nor Cuyahoga County Charters specifies qualifications and salaries for all elected officials. In fact, those Charters rely on the ORC for much of those provisions.

Similar efforts to stifle the people’s right to propose county charters are taking place in Meigs and Medina Counties. There, residents are advancing rights-based County Charters that recognize the people’s right to govern their own communities – including their right to ban fracking related infrastructure.

The Meigs County Board voted to keep their constituents’ measure off the ballot. Jimmy Stewart, President of the Ohio Gas Association, was appointed to the BOE by Secretary of State Jon Husted. Stewart strongly opposed the measure during deliberations. Petitioners requested Stewart refrain from voting based on his conflict of interest. He refused. Residents may file a protest.

In Medina County, the Board tied in their vote. Tie votes and protests are decided by Secretary Husted.

In Portage County, Commissioners voted to advance their charter initiative to the Board of Elections for signature validation.

“Last summer, some of these same communities faced efforts to quash their rights-based charter initiatives by Secretary Husted and industry allies. It’s clear: Those who are responsible to place qualified initiatives on the ballot do not want to recognize the people’s right to govern the places where they live,” stated Tish O’Dell, Ohio community organizer for CELDF. “This is voter suppression, carried out by blocking citizen initiatives. Our right to initiative is now precarious. Our fight against injustice and for our right to self-govern is growing more urgent – in Ohio and beyond.”

Ohio Communities Not Alone

Ohio residents are advancing Community Rights as part of the broader Community Rights Movement building across the United States. As the Movement builds, so are efforts to block the right to initiative – such as in Tacoma, WA – and so grows communities’ determination to preserve that right.

Local communities and state Community Rights Networks are partnering with CELDF to advance and protect fundamental democratic and environmental rights. They are working with CELDF to establish Community Rights and the Rights of Nature in law, and prohibit extraction, fracking, factory farming, water privatization, and other industrial activities as violations of those rights. Communities are joining together within and across states, working with CELDF to advance systemic change – recognizing our existing system of law and governance as inherently undemocratic and unsustainable.


Additional Information

For additional information regarding petitioning communities, contact CELDF at To learn about the Ohio Community Rights Network, visit To learn about the Community Rights Movement, visit


About CELDF — Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit, public interest law firm providing free and affordable legal services to communities facing threats to their local environment, local agriculture, local economy, and quality of life. Its mission is to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.



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