Mahoning County BOE blocks qualified citizen initiatives from the ballot in Youngstown, while Wood County BOE advances a similar measure in Bowling Green
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tish O’Dell, Ohio Community Organizer
YOUNGSTOWN, OH: Yesterday marks the first time a Board of Elections has stopped residents of a chartered municipality from advancing qualified citizen initiatives to the ballot using their new found power in the controversial HB 463. The Mahoning County Board of Elections refused to place two charter amendments proposed by the people on the November ballot.
Youngstown residents gathered signatures for a measure to protect drinking water from harmful activities, and a second measure to create free and fair elections. While their measures were blocked, a similar environmental measure in Bowling Green, entitled the Citizens Right to a Healthy Environment and Livable Climate charter amendment, was placed on the ballot yesterday by the Wood County Board of Elections.
Youngstown and Bowling Green residents requested the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) assist in drafting the initiatives as they face threats to drinking water from fossil fuel extraction and other harmful activities, including the Nexus Pipeline. CELDF also assisted Youngstown residents in drafting their Fair Election Bill of Rights. The measure is the first of its kind in the state, limiting campaign contributions to registered voters within the City, and capping those contributions at $100.
The Mahoning County Board of Elections is using HB 463, adopted by the Ohio legislature in December 2016, to extinguish citizen initiative in Youngstown. The General Assembly gave the Secretary of State and local Boards of Elections full authority to keep citizen initiatives off the ballot based on their opinion of the content. This goes against 104 years of precedent that protected citizen initiative from governmental interference.
“It appears based on today’s decisions that if a people’s initiative is going to make it to the ballot or not is completely arbitrary, depending on the whim of the appointed members of the Board of Election in the county where you live,” stated Lisa Kochheiser of Bowling Green.
“People’s rights are being treated like a political football. Why do Bowling Green residents have the right to vote on their citizen initiative, while Youngstown residents do not? This is dangerous. Our right to initiative is quashed because a few people in government are empowered through HB 463 to render the initiative’s content unconstitutional before it has even been voted on. Our right to citizen initiative is protected in our state constitution, and it’s protected in our city charters. We will challenge this violation,” stated Lynn Anderson of Youngstown.
Similar community rights measures in Athens and Medina Counties are currently being blocked by Boards of Elections as well. They are supported in their decision to keep these initiatives off the ballot by the American Petroleum Institute, the Ohio Farm Bureau and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. Residents in Athens and Medina are determined to exercise their right to alter and reform their government by establishing a charter form of county government that includes an expanded bill of rights to protect their health, safety, and welfare over harmful oil/gas industry projects.
Youngstown, and Athens and Medina Counties, are working with CELDF to challenge the Boards of Elections in the Ohio Supreme Court. CELDF’s Tish O’Dell stated, “It’s becoming more and more clear: We live in a corporate state where monied interests of industry simply purchase the ‘laws’ that strip the people of their rights. Well, Ohio residents are fighting back.”
CELDF is crowdfunding to help cover legal costs associated with protecting the peoples’ rights. Through CrowdJustice, people across the country are helping to protect citizen initiative in Ohio. All donations to CELDF, a 501(c)(3) organization, are tax deductible, and will be used to defray legal costs.
Ohio Communities Part of Growing Movement
Ohio residents are advancing Community Rights as part of the broader Community Rights Movement building across the United States, where other localities are advancing similar measures to establish and protect their rights to a healthy climate, clean air and water, and the right to local community self-government.
Local communities and state Community Rights Networks are partnering with CELDF to advance these 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.
For additional information regarding petitioning communities, contact CELDF at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn about the Ohio Community Rights Network, visit ohiocrn.org. To learn about the Community Rights Movement, visit www.celdf.org.
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.