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Ohio Supreme Court Orders Youngstown Anti-Fracking Proposal Back on Ballot

The Ohio Supreme Court ordered a grassroots initiative in Youngstown that seeks to amend the city's charter to prohibit oil and gas industry activity back on the November ballot, reversing the local county board of elections’ decision not to certify the issue for a vote.

The Mahoning County Board of Elections had voted unanimously in August not to certify the organizer's petition, citing an Ohio Supreme Court ruling in February that found municipalities can’t prohibit oil and gas development in a way that conflicts with the state's regulatory authority (see Shale DailyAug. 27;Feb. 17). FrackFree Mahoning Valley, which circulated the petition to amend the city's charter, has also tried four times before to pass the measure, but voters rejected the proposal.

Youngstown City Council, at the city law director's recommendation, had voted to advance the petition to the county board of elections for certification. When the board voted not to certify it, the city filed a lawsuit against the decision claiming that the legality of the charter amendment could be challenged in court if it was passed (see Shale DailyAug. 31) In a unanimous decision, the state Supreme Court ruled that the board of elections does not have the authority to keep a certifiable, citizen-sponsored initiative off the ballot. Organizers needed to secure 1,270 signatures for the petition to be certified for the ballot; they received 1,534 valid signatures.

The board of elections, the high court said, does "not have authority to sit as arbiters of the legality or constitutionality of a ballot measure's substantive terms," adding that "the board exceeded its statutory authority and therefore abused its discretion."

The Supreme Court's decision came just a day after it ruled to uphold Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted's decision to invalidate similar petitions in three counties that sought to ban oil and gas development, keeping those issues off November ballots. The Supreme Court, however, said it upheld Husted's decision because the organizers failed to properly propose establishing county charters to ban development by excluding the necessary language (see Shale DailySept. 17).

In that case, the high court said Husted does not have the authority to invalidate such petitions, meaning they'll likely be circulated again next year after the organizer's fix the language of their proposals.

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