The Ohio Supreme Court has just ruled that an initiative to ban fracking in Youngstown will appear on the May ballot in two weeks. Now the Mahoning County Board of Elections is scrambling to get it right.
In its decision, the court said the board of elections overstepped its authority by saying the Youngstown Drinking Water Protection Bill of Rights couldn’t appear on the ballot.
Over a thousand early voting ballots have already been returned, but the anti-fracking issue wasn’t on them. The board of elections determined anti-fracking initiatives fell outside a local government’s authority — a right the board assumed was granted them by state law.
But now those people need a chance to vote.
Mark Munroe, chairman of the Mahoning County Board of Elections, has a solution to the early voting ballots.
“We will probably mail those 1,085 voters a supplemental ballot so that they will have the opportunity to weigh in and vote on the charter amendment,” he said.
The amendment aims to:
- Recognize certain rights of Youngstown residents and of “ecosystems and natural communities within the city” to “clean water, air and soil” and to be free from certain fossil-fuel drilling and extraction activities
- Require the city to prosecute violations of the amendment and allow the city to recover attorney fees and expert costs incurred in prosecuting violations
- Impose strict liability on any government or corporation that violates the rights established by the amendment
- Restrict the use of funds allocated to the city’s water and sewer infrastructure
- Give the people of Youngstown the right “to compel their governments to protect their rights, health and safety”
“We feel that people’s right to vote and their knowledge that their vote and their voice actually count is very important,” said Susie Beiersdorfer, with the Committee for the Youngstown Water Protection Bill of Rights.
But let’s say the anti-fracking issue fails like it has six previous times. Could the committee file another lawsuit claiming a fraudulent election?
“They’re looking into that,” Beiersdorfer said. “In fact, one of our lawyers was looking at the Ohio Revised Code, saying, ‘I haven’t seen anything on how you’re supposed to do an election when something like this comes in at the end.'”
Last year, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the Mahoning County Board of Elections was within its rights to prevent the anti-fracking issue on the ballot. Munroe now wants to know exactly what the board can and cannot do.
“We want to find a way to resolve this so that we’re not going back year after year, election after election, trying to resolve this. We need some clarification from the courts as to exactly how the board should treat these issues.”
Starting Wednesday, any ballot mailed out or used in early voting will have the anti-fracking issue on it. All ballots on Election Day will have the issue on them as well.