Athens Charter Group Protests Election Board Decision

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An Athens County group hoping to get a charter government initiative to voters is protesting the board of election’s decision to remove it from the November ballot.

The Athens County Bill of Rights Committee submitted a written protest against the Athens County Board of Elections’ July 8 decision on the county charter which seeks to keep the county from being a disposal site for injection well, or fracking, waste, and seeks to regulate the county’s water supply use in fracking.

The chairman of the committee cited three errors they claim the board made in taking the measure off the ballot.

“They exceeded their legal authority when they passed judgment on constitutional validity of the proposed charter, Richard McGinn said in a press release.

The committee also claimed that the board “misread” the Ohio Constitution and the charter petition, and also “failed to scrutinize the contradictory advice of the county prosecutor,” according to the committee.

This is the second attempt to get the petition on the ballot. One submitted in 2015 was rejected by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.

The petition was written with the help of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which joined with the Athens County committee in protesting the decision.

“The initiative establishes the right to local community self-government, and to clean air and water,” the release stated. “Fracking waste disposal activities are banned as a violation of those rights.”

While the Athens County committee members say the board of elections “performed their function” by certifying the official count of valid signatures on the petition, they did not listen to all sides of Prosecutor Keller Blackburn’s recommendation.

“The Board chose to ignore the prosecutor’s legal recommendation to put the petition on the ballot, and instead followed his ‘opinion’ and denied it to the ballot,” McGinn wrote.

Blackburn was asked to give a legal opinion on whether the measure was valid. In the opinion, he said “the power of the people to use the democratic process should not be infringed.”

But McGinn said the board used another opinion from Blackburn — that the petition was not valid despite his recommendation that the choice go to voters — was the opinion the board used in its decision to remove the ballot measure.

“The Board chose to follow the prosecutor’s opinion rather than his legal recommendation, and on that dubious basis, denied the people the right to vote on the issues,” McGinn wrote in the press release.

The board claimed the ballot measure would not alter the form of government in Athens County, would not take powers away from municipalities and townships and give them to the county, and would rely on the Ohio Revised Code to make qualifications and salaries for elected officials.

The committee argued that the initiative includes descriptions of the form of government they would like to see, but does not change the current elected offices.