During the week of May 20, 2020, a federal judge issued a ruling that Ohio must allow electronic signature to be submitted by the groups who are proposing local marijuana initiatives, a change to the state’s minimum wage, and other measures due to the coronavirus pandemic, even though the Ohio Constitution requires signatures to be made in ink. Ohio must also extend the deadline to file signatures for the two statewide measures from July 1 to July 31, per the judge’s order.
“Plaintiffs cannot safely and effectively circulate their petitions in person,” Southern District Court Judge Edmund Sargus, Jr., wrote in an opinion. “Ohio does not permit any other forms of signature gathering, including electronic signing. And because Plaintiffs cannot collect signatures in person or electronically, they have no hope of collecting the required number of signatures from the required geographic distribution by the July deadlines.”
His order applies only to the Nov. 3 election in the following initiatives: Ohioans for Raising the Wage, Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections, and supporters of local marijuana decriminalization measures in nine municipalities. The group Ohioans for Secure & Fair Elections wants a constitutional amendment allowing for same-day voter registration and to cast a ballot during early voting and on Election Day. Ohioans for Raising the Wage are seeking to raise Ohio’s minimum wage in increments to a total of $13 by the year 2025.
Ohio’s business community has a long history of being concerned when special interests continue to increasingly seek means to bypass our legislative process and add items into Ohio’s Constitution. There is also no guidance offered on how the process of collecting signatures electronically would work. The judge’s ruling would have opened the door for potential fraudulent signature collection based on verification levels and the possibility of out-of-state interests having access to placing future issues on the ballot for any topic they chose.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose is appealing the ruling by Judge Sargus. On Friday, May 22, 2020, NFIB joined with five other statewide business groups in filing an amicus (friend of the court) brief supporting Ohio’s appeal. Ohio’s Attorney General David Yost, who is acting on behalf of Secretary of State Frank LaRose, in seeking this overturn of Sargus’ ruling.
On May 26, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked the lower court’s ruling stating Ohio officials would have to allow state issue campaigns for the 2020 ballot in November to collect signatures electronically due to the coronavirus pandemic. The ruling was handed down by a panel of three judges from the U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals.
“It may well be that the new methods for gathering signatures and verifying them proposed by Plaintiffs (using electronic signatures gathered online by third parties and identified by social security number) will prove workable,” the federal judges wrote in their ruling. “But they may also pose serious security concerns and other, as yet unrealized, problems. So the decision to drastically alter Ohio’s election procedures must rest with the Ohio Secretary of State and other elected officials, not the courts.”