On September 16, 2015, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that the Ohio Secretary of State, Jon Husted, has lawfully exercised his discretion in determining three proposed county charter petitions in Athens, Fulton, and Medina counties to be invalid.
In August 2015, a group of voters from the three counties filed an appeal against the Ohio Secretary of State seeking a mandamus in the Ohio Supreme Court to compel the Secretary to reintroduce the charter petitions on the November 2015 election ballots. The voters alleged that the Secretary exceeded his discretion when invalidating the three petitions “because of his particular quibbles over their content and legality.”
The Ohio Supreme Court denied the voters’ request for a mandamus on the grounds that the charter petitions neglected to provide alternative forms of government as essential requirements for valid charter initiatives under Article X, Section 3 of the Ohio Constitution and the Ohio Revised Code, Section 302.2. On the other hand, the Supreme Court held that establishing the legality or constitutionality of a ballot measure’s substantive terms does not fall within the scope of the Secretary’s discretion under the Ohio Revised Code, Section 307-95(C).
As stated in the Supreme Court’s opinion, “[a]n unconstitutional proposal may still be a proper item for referendum or initiative. If passed, the measure becomes void and unenforceable only when declared unconstitutional by a court of competent jurisdiction. Until then, the people’s power of referendum remains paramount.”
In a related case decided on September 17, 2015, the Supreme Court of Ohio granted the City of Youngstown’s request for a mandamus against the Mahoning County Board of Elections but not against the Ohio Secretary of State.
In August 2015, the Mahoning County Board of Elections rejected the City’s charter amendment proposal addressing hydraulic fracturing on the basis that it was invalid because the “provisions of the proposal may be unconstitutional or in conflict with existing state law.” The City of Youngstown filed a complaint against the Board of Elections as well as the Ohio Secretary of State before the Ohio Supreme Court seeking a mandamus to certify said proposal for the November 2015 election ballot.
The Ohio Supreme Court reasoned that “a board of elections has discretion to determine whether a proposed ballot measure satisfies statutory prerequisites to be a ballot measure . . . however, [it does] not have authority to sit as arbiters of the legality or constitutionality of a ballot measure’s substantive terms.” The Supreme Court also declared that the Secretary of State’s actions in this matter are not in dispute.
Further information on the case State ex rel. Walker v. Husted can be found at docket no. 2015-1371.
Further information on the case The State ex rel. The City of Youngstown v. Mahoning County Board of Elections et al. can be found at docket no. 2015-1422.
Written by Chloe Marie - Research Fellow