Ohio to U.S. Supreme Court: Keep signature rules in place

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The state of Ohio continued Monday to defend its right to impose normal signature requirements on ballot issue campaigns amid the global pandemic.

Uncertainty over the question prompted a voting-rights campaign to suspend its ballot effort last week, but minimum wage and marijuana decriminalization issues remain.

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In a filing with the U.S. Supreme Court, Republican Attorney General Dave Yost’s attorneys argued that a lower court judge who had temporarily relaxed the rules effectively "rewrote Ohio’s Constitution and Revised Code."

The state also argued that changing signature-gathering rules now would lead to "last-minute confusion" and the possible wrongful passage of issues this fall. The argument has an ironic twist, since some of the delay pushing the campaigns closer to the signature deadline has been caused by the litigation itself.

U.S. District Court Judge Edmund Sargus Jr. set up the more flexible rules in a May 19 decision. They would have allowed campaigns promoting minimum wage, voting rights and marijuana issues to collect signatures electronically. Sargus had also extended the deadline for submitting signatures by about a month, to July 31.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked those less restrictive rules from kicking in. Justices have been asked to decide whether failing to accommodate ballot campaigns during the time of COVID-19 violates their constitutional right to access Ohio’s ballot.

A decision by the justices will no longer help what was the most high-profile of Ohio's fall ballot campaigns. Ohioans for Safe and Secure Elections, which advanced election-law changes aiming to make voting easier, suspended its campaign last week as its protracted fight to proceed with the effort neared the June 30 filing deadline.

Other parties to the case are Ohioans for Raising the Wage, which seeks a statewide vote to raise the state minimum wage from $8.70 to $13 over five years, and backers of placing marijuana decriminalization measures on more than a dozen town and village ballots across the state.

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