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Ohio Supreme Court blocks Bellefontaine drag ban from November ballot

The Olive Tree

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled unanimously to block a proposed drag ban from the Nov. 7 ballot in Bellefontaine.

The Sunday ruling seems to put an end to a battle about the legality of the petitions circulated in the small city northwest of Columbus.

The state's high court wrote in its opinion that Secretary of State Frank LaRose and the board of elections “abused their discretion and disregarded the law” when they overruled a protest about petition language.

A group of residents circulated petitions to classify drag as adult cabaret performance and to ban performances on public property after a drag queen appeared in a Christmas parade in 2022.

The full text of the petitions reads, “The classification of drag artist(s) and drag shows as Adult Cabaret Performance. Adult oriented exhibitions featuring male or female impersonators who provide displays of entertainment appealing to sexual interests shall not permit the attendance of a minor. Adult Cabaret Performances shall not be held on public property, or any location viewable by a minor.”

Ohio Supreme Court documents show that after circulating the petitions, the group replaced the first page, adding the words, “Proposal to amend City of Bellefontaine Codified Ordinance Chapter 1177 Adult Entertainment…”

In omitting the text, the original petition appeared to indicate that a new law would be created, due to the inclusion of the phrase, “the following is a full and correct copy of the title and text of the proposed ordinance,” on the form.

Five Bellefontaine voters filed a formal protest asking the Logan County Board of Elections asking the measure to be removed from the ballot, saying the language on the petitions filed with the county auditor “substantively” differed from the ones that were circulated.

The board voted 2-2, leaving LaRose to break the tie vote. He voted against the protest, saying the petitions “did contain the full and correct copy of the title of the proposed ordinance…” according to court documents.

But the court in its ruling said that law requires that each part-petition presented to electors must “contain a full and correct copy of the title and text of the proposed ordinance.” It also noted that in referring to petition “signed by the required number of electors,” the law “inherently requires” that the petitions that electors sign are the same ones later filed with the city auditor.

Allie Vugrincic is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She comes to Columbus from her hometown of Warren, Ohio, where she was a reporter, features writer and photographer for four years at the Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator newspapers.