BOE refuses to place duly qualified Community Bill of Rights citizen initiative on the November ballot



Tish O’Dell, Ohio Community Organizer

COLUMBUS, OH: Today, the Franklin County Board of Elections effectively stripped 560,000 Columbus citizens of their right to vote on a ballot measure entitled Community Bill of Rights for Water, Soil, and Air Protection and to Prohibit Gas and Oil Extraction and Related Activities and Projects Ordinance. The local group, Columbus Community Bill of Rights, qualified the measure, gathering more than 12,000 signatures. The Columbus City Council approved the measure to advance to the ballot on July 30.

Columbus residents requested the assistance of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) in drafting the initiative. City residents face threats to drinking water from the disposal of toxic and radioactive fracking waste within the city’s watershed. The proposed ordinance recognizes democratic and environmental rights, including the right to pure water and the right to make decisions directly impacting the community’s health, safety, and welfare.

Similar measures were advanced in Youngstown and Bowling Green over the last year, where residents’ right to vote on their own legislation was recognized by the Wood County Board of Elections and the Ohio Supreme Court.

The Franklin County Board of Elections is using HB 463 to justify their actions. HB 463 was adopted by the Ohio legislature on behalf of the oil and gas industry in December 2016. The House Bill takes direct aim at stopping Community Rights initiatives from advancing to the ballot, and goes against 104 years of precedent that protected citizen initiative from governmental interference.

“The Board of Elections meeting today was a farce. Board members began by stating they are not there as lawyers and are not in a position to vote on this – and then they proceeded to vote such that we, the people, cannot,” stated Bill Lyons of the Columbus Community Bill of Rights. “In fact, neither we, nor our attorney, was permitted to speak prior to their vote. We have a right to speak, we have a right to vote, and we have a right to clean water. Today, we’ve been denied each of them.”

Tish O’Dell, CELDF’s Ohio community organizer, added, “Some Ohioans have more rights than others. When Youngstown and Bowling Green residents’ rights to put laws on the ballot are recognized, while Columbus residents’ rights are denied – we have a democracy problem. The Franklin County BOE is acting outside of its authority by blocking the people’s ballot measure from a vote by the people.”

Citizen initiative is protected in the Ohio state constitution and in the Columbus city charter. Columbus residents are determined to exercise their right to initiative and to protect their health, safety, and welfare over harmful oil and gas industry projects. They are working with CELDF to challenge the decision.

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.

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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