The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that anti-fracking petitions in three counties will not appear on the general election ballot in November. Citizens in Athens, Meigs, and Portage counties had sought a vote on whether to adopt a charter form of government that banned fracking activities in these counties. After obtaining sufficient signatures, the citizens submitted the petitions to their respective local election board. Each election board, however, voted 4-0 against placing the petitions on the ballot. The citizens protested to the Ohio Secretary of State, who denied the protests. He found the petitions failed “to provide for the performance of all duties imposed upon county officers by general law as the Ohio Constitution requires.” The citizens then sought mandamus relief from the Ohio Supreme Court.
The Ohio Supreme Court, in a 6-1 decision, denied the citizens’ request for an order that the anti-fracking petitions appear on the ballot. The majority concluded the secretary of state and the local election boards reasonably determined that the petitions failed “to provide for the exercise of all powers vested in, and the performance of all duties imposed upon, counties and county officers,” as required by Article X, Section 3 of the Ohio Constitution. Although the petitions stated that certain powers and duties “shall be exercised in the manner prescribed by the Constitution of Ohio or by general law,” the majority found this was too vague and, under State ex rel. Walker v. Husted, 43 N.E.3d 419 (Ohio 2015), impermissibly “forc[ed] one to ‘look to sources outside the proposed charters to determine the form of government they purport to establish.’”
The dissent would have ordered that the petitions appear on the ballot, stating: “The secretary of state does not have the power to veto charter petitions on behalf of the oil and gas industry . . . . This is a usurpation of power from the people that we should not indulge.”