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Ohio Supreme Court Decisions Have Columbus Fracking Opponents Eyeing May Ballot

Ohio Supreme Court Gavel statue
Creative Commons

Organizers who want a fracking ban within Columbus city limits are once again leaning on City Council to get it before voters.

Last year, the Franklin County Board of Elections denied the "Community Bill of Rights" a place on the November ballot, arguing the proposal appeared to conflict with state law. Bill Lyons, one of the organizers pushing for the ballot measure, argues that recent Ohio Supreme Court rulings undercut the board's ability to intervene.

“They basically have struck down that ruling that they used against us to not allow our initiative to go on the November ballot,” Lyons says.

The cases have to do with two Toledo proposals. In particular, the court determined elections boards have “no legal authority to review the substance of a proposed charter amendment and has no discretion to block the measure from the ballot based on an assessment of its suitability.”

During the August hearing for the Columbus fracking ban, Franklin County elections board member Brad Sinnot acknowledged he and other members were caught between a rock and a hard place.

“The instruction given to us by the General Assembly is one that a board of elections is ill-equipped to follow,” he said. “It’s an instruction to perform a highly technical and complicated legal analysis relative to among other things, the home rule provisions of Ohio’s constitution.”

Sinnot, one of the board’s two Republican members, voted to keep the proposal off the ballot. Organizers lodged a formal protest at the time, but the board's decision stood.

Lyons and others plan to ask Columbus City Council to re-submit their measure for the May ballot on Monday.

"We feel that if it then goes to the board of elections, and either if the board of elections puts it on the ballot or it they don't, we think that we will be backed up by the Supreme Court this time," Lyons says.

The proposal isn’t part of the council agenda, so a spokeswoman noted it would be improper to comment "as there is no business placed before council at this time.”

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.