COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A federal court panel temporarily stopped Ohio ballot campaigns Tuesday from proceeding under less restrictive signature-gathering rules they’d been granted amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals stayed the more flexible rules while the state fights a lower court judge’s May 19 decision setting them up.
U.S. District Court Judge Edmund Sargus Jr.’s had allowed campaigns promoting minimum wage, voting rights and marijuana issues to collect signatures electronically. He also extended the deadline for submitting signatures to July 31. Sargus stopped short of reducing the number of signatures required, as some courts elsewhere have done amid a spate of COVID-19-related signature-gathering challenges.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost appealed Sargus’ decision Thursday on behalf of fellow Republican Frank LaRose, the secretary of state. Yost asked the full Sixth Circuit to take up the case en banc. The state argues, among other things, that “wet ink” signature requirements laid out in Ohio’s Constitution cannot be changed without a vote of the people.
The case has been expedited.
The ruling adds to a string of setbacks for Ohioans for Safe and Secure Elections, whose reform package aims to make voting in Ohio easier. Campaign manager Toni Webb lamented Tuesday’s ruling in an emailed statement.
“The three-judge panel has said that collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures during a global pandemic was within the capacity of the campaign,” she said. “But we know, other courts across the country know, and our diverse coalition of supporters knows that to embark on traditional signature collection during this time would have been dangerous, unethical, immoral, and absurd.”
Webb called the state’s decision to challenge more flexible requirements “reveals their true priorities when it comes to the rights of Ohio voters.”
LaRose’s spokeswoman, Maggie Sheehan, said the elections chief followed through as promised on the appeal.
“We applaud the court’s decision to defend Ohio’s constitution as they prepare to consider the full case on its merits,” she said in an emailed statement.
Other parties to the suit are Ohioans for Raising the Wage, whose initiative would raise the state minimum wage from $8.70 to $13 over five years; and campaigns hoping to place marijuana decriminalization measures on more than a dozen town and village ballots across the state.