Ballot Initiative Deemed Invalid By Secretary of State

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An initiative that was tossed back and forth from the Athens County Board of Elections to the Athens County Common Pleas Court has now been removed from the November ballot by a state official.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted ruled that a charter initiative headed for review by the voters will not show up, according to his decision released Thursday.

The charter initiative was originally rejected by the Board of Elections, then appealed to the Common Pleas court by the creators of the initiative, the Athens County Bill of Rights. Judge George McCarthy ruled that the charter could be put on the November ballot, and the Athens County Commissioners certified the initiative for the ballot. The board decided not to appeal the court’s decision while they awaited the secretary of state’s decision.

Husted was tasked to rule on the initiative after Joanne Prisley filed documents in opposition to the charter government. In her opposition, Prisley argued that the banning of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” within the county is a matter of zoning regulations, not dependent upon a change in government.

Supporters of the charter argued that Husted should only rule on the validity of the initiative for ballot consideration and not on the content of the charter, but the secretary of state said he was “unconvinced” by their argument.

“The initiative petition and the proposed charter are inseparable at this stage of the process,” Husted stated in his ruling.

The Athens County initiative was removed from the ballot along with two other county’s attempts at similar initiatives. Husted also said Athens and the other counties “simply fail to adhere to the Revised Code’s clear requirements for a legally constituted ‘alternative form of government.”

He invalidated the petitions’ efforts to ban fracking, ruling that “state law preempts any authority to regulate ‘fracking’ by political subdivisions of the state, including charter counties.”

Athens County Board of Elections Deputy Director Penny Brooks declined to comment on the decision until after the board’s Monday meeting.