Ohio Supreme Court rejects fracking foes' ballot protest

Julie Carr Smyth, Associated Press

Residents in three counties where Ohio's top elections official invalidated anti-fracking ballot issues for this fall lost a legal challenge Wednesday in the state Supreme Court.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Residents in three counties where Ohio's top elections official invalidated anti-fracking ballot issues for this fall lost a legal challenge Wednesday in the state Supreme Court.

In a 6-1 decision, justices said that Secretary of State Jon Husted didn't have the discretion to assess the legality of "community rights charters" offered in Fulton, Medina and Athens counties, but he had cited another reason to toss the measures that was valid.

In a statement, Husted called the decision affirmation that he made the right choice.

"As I have stated previously, this course of action is not the appropriate path to seek change on this issue," he said. "If advocates of these local proposals truly want to effect change, they should use the legislative process available to them and either work with their representatives in the Ohio General Assembly or propose a statewide initiated statute."

The measures effectively would have banned the gas-drilling technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in those counties by restricting all related development projects. Husted said that unconstitutionally circumvented state fracking law that had already been litigated.

He was referencing a February Supreme Court decision that said the home-rule clause of Ohio's constitution doesn't allow a municipality to block drilling activities otherwise permitted by the state.

While noting that "election officials are gatekeepers," the court said blocking the charters based on Husted's interpretation of their constitutionality was outside his authority.

The majority wrote that "the authority to determine whether a ballot measure falls within the scope of the constitutional power of referendum (or initiative) does not permit election officials to sit as arbiters of the legality or constitutionality of a ballot measure's substantive terms."

Such an interpretation of the law would lead to "absurd results," they said, such as the elections chief disqualifying ballot issues unseen by voters that a court would have determined to be constitutional.

Husted's invalidations were upheld because of a second reason he cited for his decision: that the issues failed to satisfy threshold requirements for legal charter initiatives.

The high court said the charter amendments didn't provide an alternative form of government for the counties or establish which county officers would be elected and in what kind of an election.

Justice William O'Neill dissented.

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