After being removed from the ballot by the County Board of Elections and the Ohio Supreme Court, Williams County petitioners move to join an existing federal civil rights lawsuit.



Tish ODell
Community Environmental legal Defense Fund, Ohio Community Organizer

Sherry Fleming
Williams County Alliance

BRYAN, OH: In 2019, all branches of Ohio government have taken actions to undermine the growing grassroots Community Rights and Rights of Nature movements.

On September 3, the Ohio Supreme Court rolled back thousands of hours of civic engagement and signature gathering that took place in Williams County, on technical grounds. Williams County residents had gathered sufficient signatures to place a county charter on the November 2019 ballot that would prevent corporate privatization of the Michindoh Aquifer, recognize rights of the aquifer, rights of local residents to clean water, and elevate those rights above the “rights” of corporations. Petitioners appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court after its local board of elections removed the proposal from the ballot.

Petitioners are now seeking to join an ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit that argues a systematic denial of local ballot measures in Ohio violates 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.

The peoples arguments were not heard by the Ohio Supreme Court. The local board of elections should never have been able to remove this from the ballot. The Supreme Court instead decided on a ridiculous technicality, claiming that Petitioners should have gone through the appellate court rather than directly to the state supreme court,” said Tish ODell. So often, our movement, and others, are told to change the law.’ What this case shows, in part, is that when the people try to use their inalienable and constitutional right to do just that, the system tries to shut us down. The courts back up the status quo.

Since 2015, the Court, local boards of elections, and the secretary of state have removed 14 proposed Ohio Community Rights and Rights of Nature ballot initiatives from the ballot. All proposals gathered sufficient signatures. Williams County residents are now attempting to join a federal lawsuit brought by these petitioners. 

The federal lawsuit is a way for us to articulate the violations of rights that are happening in this state. But we know we will have to continue fighting outside the courthouse to advance this movement. The courts are not on our side. They refuse to uphold the principles of democracy,” says Sherry Fleming, a petitioner with Williams County Alliance, the group behind the initiative.

Link to federal lawsuit: 

Link to Ohio Supreme Court case:

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.

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