MEIGS COUNTY — The Meigs County Board of Elections is among several entities named in a lawsuit recently filed in the U.S. Northern District Court in Youngstown, Ohio.
The federal civil rights lawsuit was filed by members of seven community groups from the cities of Youngstown, Toledo and Columbus, as well as Portage, Medina, Athens and Meigs counties. The lawsuit names the Board of Elections in each of the counties, as well as the Ohio Secretary of State as defendants.
One of the plaintiffs, Greg Howard, is a Meigs County resident.
According to the complaint, Howard “has been since 2015, and continues to be, involved in proposed county charter initiatives by such actions as collecting signatures, serving on petition committees, and participating in lawsuits to challenge the unlawful actions of state election officials. Plaintiff Howard is part of the 2018 Meigs County Home Rule Committee and is currently collecting signatures to get a county charter on the 2019 ballot.”
Listed as defendants are Meigs County Board of Elections members David W. Fox, James V. Stewart, Charles E. Williams, and Paula J. Wood. The complaint states, “Defendants are responsible for applying Ohio’s unconstitutional election laws and participating in Ohio’s unconstitutional ballot access scheme, and are being sued in their official capacities.”
The complaint provides background on the Meigs County Home Rule Committee (MCHRC) and the steps previously taken by the committee to place a charter on the ballot.
First formed in 2015, the MCHRC came together to draft a proposed charter for county government. The petitions which were circulated included provisions that would have prevented the use of underground injection wells for disposal of fracking wastes and implemented water protections. Those petitions were filed in July 2015 for the November 2015 ballot. The matter did not end up on the ballot due to an alleged delay in its placement being approved between the board of elections and the commissioners, which prompted a lawsuit. The lawsuit was not decided until the following year, but was in favor of the placement.
A second petition was circulated in 2016, but was again stopped from appearing on the ballot, this time by then-Secretary of State Jon Husted. A mandamus action was filed asking for a court order to require the placement on the ballot. In that case the Ohio Supreme Court reinforced Husted’s decision.
In 2018, Howard and others collected signatures for a third attempt at the placement of the county charter with a goal of placement on the 2019 general election ballot.
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.
According to the complaint, the plaintiffs seek preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, enjoining the defendants from: engaging in any content-based substantive pre-enactment review of proposed ballot measures, including, but not limited to, whether a proposed measure is within a county or municipalities “scope of authority” or whether it is considered legislative or administrative in nature; applying the invalid provisions of the Ohio Revised Code as stated in the complaint; and employing Ohio ballot access scheme to allow substantive, content-based pre-enactment review by election officials or the judiciary.
Meigs County Prosecutor James K. Stanley, who serves as legal counsel to the Board of Elections, said that the matter will be reviewed. The Board of Elections declined further comment at this time.
A portion of the information provided by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund which has been representing the community members throughout the years, including filing this action in federal court.
Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.