Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has been sued by 10 residents of Fulton, Medina and Athens counties after he invalidated hydraulic fracturing ballot proposals.
The group is challenging Husted's decision to remove a series of ballot questions that contain bans on fracking-related oil and gas drilling projects, such as wastewater injection wells used during the fracturing process.
The plaintiffs, represented by James Kinsman and Terry J. Lodge, and assisted by The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), filed the suit with the Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday, August 19.
The suit alleges he violated residents' guaranteed right to initiative. On August 3, ballot protests were filed with the Secretary of State’s office from Medina, Fulton and Athens electors. On August 13, the Secretary issued a seven-page decision of all ballot protests.
"Husted's decision removed the county measures from the ballot," CELDF's Ohio Organizer Tish O'Dell explained. A decision that was supported by the American Petroleum Institute, the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. "In his decision, Husted stated he was 'unmoved' by the arguments of Athens, Medina and Fulton residents seeking to exercise their democratic right to vote on the measures," O'Dell continued.
"Secretary Husted has set himself up as Ohio's censorship goalie," said Lodge, co-counsel with Kinsman. "If the 'wrong' idea comes up for a vote, he alone can cancel the election. If the Ohio Supreme Court OKs this arrangement, look for every future referendum that involves people vs. corporations to disappear through the Husted Loophole."
O’Dell, explained, “The right of initiative was designed to protect the people’s right to make law without having to receive approval or be interfered with by government. Secretary of State Husted, however, has determined that he is empowered to interfere with that right as he attempts to protect the oil and gas industry from the democratic decisions of the people of Ohio.”
The seven-page decision from the Secretary states: “The petitions must be invalidated on the basis that the petitions fail to provide for an alternate form of government consistent with clear statutory and constitutional requirements, and that state law preempts any authority to regulate ‘fracking’ by political subdivisions of the state, including charter counties.”
Josh Eck, a spokesman for the Secretary's office, said that Husted's decision was firmly grounded in Ohio law, and the Secretary had the legal right to rule as he did." He went on to further state that if the lawsuit continues it could become a lengthy and costly process.
O'Dell hopes that the Ohio Supreme Court upholds the peoples' constitutional right to initiative by allowing the charters on the ballot to give the people a voice in altering and reforming their government. "Allowing the people to assert democracy would be the most promising outcome," O'Dell continued.
Oil and gas drilling by means of hydraulic fracturing is a hot topic debate between citizens and cities and states across America. Energy-rich states such as Texas, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Colorado continuously attempt to dispel activism and criticism within the local communities.
In December 2014, New York State banned fracking statewide.
Husted has until Tuesday, August 25 to file a response to the lawsuit.