Ohio Court of Appeals denies Meigs ‘Home Rule’ ballot initiative

Lorna Hart - [email protected]

POMEROY — As a result of a ruling handed down by the Ohio Fourth District Court of Appeals, a charter measure ballot intuitive brought forward by the Meigs County Home Rule Committee will not appear on the Nov. 3 ballot in Meigs County.

The court ruled that the Ohio Revised Code, which are the rules and regulations for government agencies in the state of Ohio, were not properly complied with by the Meigs County Board of Elections in regard to certifying the petition and signatures.

The Meigs County Home Rule Committee gathered signatures in an effort to put a community rights county charter initiative on the November ballot. The proposed charter, according to the committee, would recognize the right of county residents to initiative a referendum.

The petition also includes a ban on fracking infrastructure projects to dispose of fracking waste in Meigs County.

Ballot initiatives are required to be submitted to the Board of Elections by the 120th day before a general election, in this case June 26. The home rule initiative was submitted to the Board on June 24, two days before the deadline.

In order for the petition to be approved, the Board of Elections was to provide the commissioners a certification of both the signatures and a certification of the validity of the petition itself, along with a report. This information was to be delivered to the commissioners no later than 130 days before the general election, which would have been July 6.

The Commissioners received a letter from Meigs County Board of Elections Director Becky Johnston and Deputy Director Meghan Lee on July 2, advising them the petition had been filed with the Board of Elections on June 24, and that at least 567 signatures (the minimum required amount) on the petition were valid.

On July 9, the Commissioners sent a letter to the Board stating it received and discussed the letter at the July 9 meeting. Three deficiencies were identified; the letter did not certify whether the petition had sufficient valid signature, nothing concerning the validly of the petition itself was included and there was no certification from the Board of Elections showing its certification.

According to the commissioners and the Meigs County Home Rule Committee, the Board of Elections had a special meeting July 13 and sent the commissioners the certifications and report the same day. From there, the commissioners had until July 15 at 4 p.m. to either pass a resolution for the petition or not.

During their July 14 meeting, the motion died for lack of a second because the Board of Elections turned in their certifications and report to the commissioners a week after it was due, according to ORC, which would have been July 6.

The committee then sued the Meigs County Commissioners after they declined to pass a resolution placing the charter proposal on the November ballot. The dispute between the committee and the commissioners came about when the question was raised as to whether or not the commissioners had a clear legal duty to certify the petition to the Board of Elections.

The Court of Appeals ruling, dated Sept. 9, stated that “The Meigs County Board of Elections did not certify the petition and the signatures within the 120-day time period as required.”

The decision went on to say that the commissioners have no clear legal duty to certify a petition to the Board of Elections until it receives a timely certification that the petition is valid and that there are sufficient valid signatures.

The court disagreed with the committee’s assertion that by requesting the commissioners adopt a resolution certifying the petition for the November ballot, it was implicit the petition was valid, saying:

“We disagree with the interpretation by the Committee, the statute expressly states that the Board of Election is to certify whether the petition is valid and whether it has sufficient valid signatures. These are two separate requirements.

“There is nothing in the letter (referring to the July 2 letter) that certifies whether the petition is valid or invalid. It only references the sufficiency and validly of the signatures.

“And although the court liberally construes the rights of initiative and referendum, we will not do so when the applicable statutory requirements are, as here, not satisfied. Therefore, the committee does not have a clear legal right to the requested extraordinary relief, nor is there a corresponding clear legal duty on the part of the Board of Commissioners to provide it.”

In conclusion the court stated that the committee did not establish clear and convincing evidence that it is entitled to “extraordinary relief” that had been requested. Had the court ruled in favor of the committee, it may have made it possible to place the proposal on the November ballot.

In light of the court’s decision, voters will not see the proposal on the ballot this fall. It remains to be seen if advocates of Home Rule will continue their attempts at placing it on future ballots.

Contact Lorna Hart at 740-992-2155 Ext. 2551

Lorna Hart

[email protected]