Tactics to keep duly-qualified citizen ballot measures off local ballots raise constitutional concerns in Ohio and Washington.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tish O’Dell, Ohio Community Organizer
MERCERSBURG, PA: Residents petitioning for municipal laws to expand human, civil, and ecosystem rights, while governing corporate activities, are facing administrative run-arounds, legal stonewalling and novel tactics to remove duly-qualified citizen ballot measures from ever being voted on.
In Ohio, since 2015, courts, appointed county boards of elections, and the Office of the Secretary of State – with assistance from the state legislature – have removed 14 ballot measures that had sufficient signatures and satisfied all administrative requirements. The initiatives address fossil fuel pipelines, fracking waste disposal, fossil fuel extraction, drinking water protections, Rights of Nature and/or fair and free local elections. Measures have been removed in Youngstown, Toledo, Columbus, and Portage, Medina, Athens, and Meigs counties.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is supporting the respective plaintiffs from these communities in a federal civil rights lawsuit against specific Ohio boards of elections and current and past secretaries of state. The lawsuit argues the tactics used to keep the initiatives off the ballot directly violate residents’ 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.
Oral arguments are scheduled for Wednesday, August 26, 2019, pertaining to the State’s and two counties’ motions to dismiss the people’s case.
Most recently, in Williams County, Ohio, a Common Pleas Court judge on July 17 upheld a board of elections decision to keep a qualified county charter off the ballot. That measure addresses Rights of Nature of the Michindoh Aquifer and water privatization.
In Washington State, grassroots group Save Tacoma Water organized in 2016 in opposition to a proposed fossil fuel methanol plant, which was projected to consume over 14 million gallons of water per day. The group used the initiative process to qualify two ballot measures to require citizen approval for all industrial water projects using over one million gallons per day. After industrial interests filed a complaint with a local court, the initiative was removed from the ballot, despite having otherwise qualified for a vote of the people.
In June, CELDF supported a First Amendment petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge Washington state courts’ continued denial of ballot access for duly qualified local citizen initiatives.
“These tactics pose a threat to fundamental democratic theories of change,” says Bill Lyons of Columbus. “It’s not just affecting our work. Other groups in Cleveland, Kansas City, Minneapolis and beyond are also being denied the power to vote on key social and economic justice issues in their community. This is an attack on we the people’s power to drive change into law. We will not stop fighting back.”
About CELDF — Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is building a movement for Community Rights and the Rights of Nature to advance democratic, economic, social, and environmental rights – building upward from the grassroots to the state, federal, and international level.