Campaign Files Arguments Against Ohio Petition Law “Blackout Period”

Seeks Full 90 Days to Collect Signatures

(Columbus, October 16, 2019) Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts filed arguments yesterday in U.S. District Court challenging the petitioning “blackout period” mandated by Ohio law. Currently the law prohibits ballot committees from collecting signatures until the Attorney General and Secretary of State have approved ballot issue language and verified the initial 1,000 signature requirement.

This process consumed 38 of the 90 days Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts had to collect the 265,744 signatures needed to make the 2020 ballot. “The ‘blackout period’ represents an unconstitutional barrier to Ohioans seeking to exercise their right to referendum,” said campaign spokesman Gene Pierce.  Ohioans have had the right of referendum since it was included in the Ohio Constitution in 1912 and they exercised that right often.  In the next two decades ten referenda successfully made the ballot. 

In 1931 however, the Ohio General Assembly passed legislation that required petitioners to submit a summary of the proposed referendum to the Attorney General and create a “blackout period” until that approval was given.  In the nearly ninety years since only three legislative referenda petitions have made the ballot.  

In the suit, Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts is asking the court to extend their petitioning deadline, arguing that the 90 day petitioning window shouldn’t begin until after the “blackout period” is complete.  

The suit reads:  

“Through imposition of extra-constitutional mandates in Ohio Rev. Code ยง 3519.01(B)(the “Summary Statute”) which require, prior to obtaining a single signature on any referendum petition, those seeking to subject legislation to referendum to obtain pre-approval from the government of the proposed petition and that, while awaiting such pre-approval, the 90-day period to obtain signatures on the petition is not tolled or stayed, the State of Ohio has unconstitutionally burdened and infringed upon the full and robust exercise of the First Amendment rights of the COMMITTEE and those supportive of subjecting H.B. 6 to a vote of the people.”

“We believe the Ohio Constitution guarantees us a full 90 days for petitioning activities, and that the summary language requirement violates our First Amendment rights,” said Pierce. “We are asking the court to remedy this by allowing us a full 90 days to circulate petitions. 

“The backers of HB 6 have actively worked to deny Ohioans their first amendment rights,” said Pierce.  “They’ve employed hundreds of blockers to stop voters from signing, started a phony petition drive to confuse Ohioans, bribed countless circulators to walk off the job and run tens of millions of dollars in advertisements with phony claims and lies. 

“The 1931 law clearly restricts citizens who want to challenge a bad bill, in favor of legislators and special interest donors who want to escape accountability for their actions,” said Pierce. 

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts is a coalition of consumer, business and environmental advocates opposed to House Bill 6’s controversial billion dollar bailout and gutting of Ohio’s renewable energy standards.