COLUMBUS, Ohio — A Franklin County judge has rejected a lawsuit seeking to allow electronic signature gathering for Ohio state issue campaigns, among other changes loosening ballot-access rules, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Tuesday decision from Common Pleas Judge David C. Young is a blow to the two campaigns that brought the lawsuit — Ohioans for Raising the Wage, which wants to amend Ohio’s constitution to hike the state’s hourly minimum wage to $13, and Ohioans for Raising the Wage and Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections, which wants automatic voter registration for Ohioans who visit the BMV and other voting reforms.
The campaigns had sought to lower the bar for making the ballot, a process which requires them to gather signatures from 452,958 voters in 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties by July 1. That included allowing electronic signatures, reducing or waive the signature requirements, extending the deadline, or allowing the groups to continue gather signatures during a “cure period” during which state officials review a batch of previously submitted petitions.
But Young, a Democrat, wrote the Ohio Constitution, which lays out the rules for constitutional amendment, doesn’t include an exception for public-health emergencies.
“The plain language of the statute sets forth the requirements for ballot access,” the judge wrote in denying the campaigns’ request for a preliminary injunction. “The ability to change those requirements is reserved only to the people.”
The groups could still either appeal in state court or file a different lawsuit in federal court. Judges in some other states have loosened petition requirements. For example, a federal judge in Michigan extended the deadline for signature gathering for candidates by two weeks and cut signature requirements in half.
“We’re reviewing the decision and considering our options,” said Celina Coming, a spokesperson for the ACLU, which is backing the automatic-voter registration initiative.
“We continue to look for opportunities to ensure that all eligible Ohioans can have their voices heard and their votes protected,” Toni Webb, Campaign Manager for Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections, said in a statement. “Many states have passed common sense, bipartisan reform measures to make their elections more efficient and accessible. Ohio must do the same.”