Politics

Community Rights Groups File Federal Suit

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Members of seven groups that want to ban hydraulic fracturing filed a complaint in federal court here Monday alleging their respective boards of elections and the Ohio secretary of state have placed “unlawful blockades” on their attempts to put community rights initiatives on the ballot.

The plaintiffs say in the complaint that these officials have violated their constitutional rights by placing “unlawful blockades, insurmountable hurdles, and arbitrary and irrational procedures between the people of Ohio and their exercise and enjoyment of direct democracy.”

They claim that the ballot process in Ohio is a violation of the separation of powers doctrine, and that it violates freedom of speech, right of assembly, right to petition the government for redress of grievances, right to vote, right to due process and right of local, community self-government, according to the filing.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

Between 2015 and 2018, the plaintiffs collected signatures in order to place charter initiatives on the ballot and were blocked from the ballot by the defendant’s actions, the complaint states.

Last year, the Mahoning County Board of Elections refused to certify signatures for a community rights charter amendment that called for a ban on hydraulic fracturing within the city of Youngstown. The Ohio Supreme Court, however, ruled that the measure was valid and should be placed on the ballot for the May 2018 primary.

The board of elections certified a similar measure placed on the ballot in November 2018. The community rights charter amendment has failed each time it has been placed before voters.

“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 of Youngstown, one of the plaintiffs.

“When the very government that is violating the people’s rights is blocking them from making change, we cannot accept this,” she said. “We need to challenge it and protect our right to self-govern. In Ohio we need to protect our right to direct democracy though the initiative process. That is what this lawsuit is about.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.