Tish O’Dell, Ohio Community Organizer

Youngstown, OH:  Members of seven Ohio community groups — from the cities of Youngstown, Toledo and Columbus, as well as Portage, Medina, Athens and Meigs counties — have filed suit against their respective Boards of Elections and the Ohio Secretary of State, in the U.S. Northern District Court in Youngstown, Ohio.  The complaint alleges these officials have violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights of freedom of speech, right of assembly, right to petition the government for redress of grievances, right to vote, right of due process, and right of local, community self-government.

The Ohio Constitution guarantees Ohioans the right to direct democracy through initiative and referendum. All of the plaintiff communities have collected signatures to place initiatives on the ballot at some point between 2015 and 2018. All the communities have been blocked from the ballot by the defendants’ unlawful actions. The complaint describes these actions as “placing unlawful blockades, insurmountable hurdles, and arbitrary and irrational procedures between the people of Ohio and their exercise and enjoyment of direct democracy.”

The complaint says that the entire Ohio ballot initiative process is a violation of the separation of powers doctrine. It states that unelected administrative election boards (in the executive branch) have turned away ballot initiatives based on their content, thus usurping the powers of the judicial branch. The courts, in upholding those decisions, have been complicit in defendants’ unlawful actions.

The complaint also says that by permitting this ballot access scheme to nullify ballot initiatives pre-enactment, based on their substance, defendants are denying Ohio citizens their voting rights, and as such, their constitutional free speech, assembly, and petition rights. It cites the 1988 US Supreme Court decision in Texas v. Johnson: “Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

“Our government is based on the premise that the people create government to protect their rights and that when government is no longer doing that, the people have the right to alter, reform or abolish that government and form a new one that does,” said Susie Beiersdorfer, Youngstown Plaintiff.  “When the very government that is violating the people’s rights is blocking them from making change, we cannot accept this. We need to challenge it and protect our right to self-govern. In Ohio we need to protect our right to direct democracy through the initiative process. That is what this lawsuit is about.”

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) has been representing these community members throughout the years, assisting in the drafting of the proposed ordinances, defending the people in the court challenges over ballot access, and now filing this federal court action.

Read the lawsuit here:

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 and exercise their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.


Featured image: Columbus Community Bill of Rights, Nick Evans, WOSU

Additional Resources