Mahoning elections board rejects anti-fracking initiative
By David Skolnick
After the Mahoning County Board of Elections voted to keep an initiative to ban fracking in Youngstown off the May 8 ballot, supporters of the measure said they’d again take the matter to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Board members said Tuesday nothing has changed since they decided in September 2017 to not allow a similar proposal to be put in front of city voters. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in October 2017 to uphold the board’s decision to not permit the measure on the November 2017 ballot.
The board voted 4-0 to keep the proposal off the city’s primary ballot. Again, the board pointed to House Bill 463, which requires election boards to invalidate local initiative petitions if they determine part of the petition falls outside a local government’s authority to enact them.
“This is not a consideration of the constitutionality, legality or merits of this proposal, but rather the power sought to be exercised is beyond the scope of the city’s authority,” said David Betras, the board’s vice chairman and county Democratic Party chairman.
State law gives jurisdiction over fracking to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
But in its ruling in October, the Supreme Court relied on case law and not House Bill 463.
The court largely depended on “Sensible Norwood” in which the Hamilton County Board of Elections refused to certify to the city of Norwood’s ballot a proposal to decriminalize marijuana. The court upheld that decision.
Jensen E. Silvis, an Akron attorney representing the Committee for the Youngstown Water Protection Bill of Rights, said, “There is absolutely no reason that this board should disallow this petition be submitted to the voters of Youngstown. In fact, it would not only be in total disregard for our democratic system that demands the rights to initiative and local self-government, but unconstitutional and illegal under the most recent Ohio Supreme Court rulings.”
In a separate decision shortly after the Youngstown one, the state Supreme Court ruled a board of elections has “no authority to invalidate [a] charter petition based on a substantive evaluation of its legality.”
Susie Beiersdorfer, a committee member, said, “We’re not quitting. We’re not going away. This isn’t a fracking problem. It’s a democracy problem.”
The rejected proposal would, if approved, ban fracking and anything related to the extraction of fossil fuels in the city. City voters have rejected similar ballot measures six times dating back to 2013.
Board Chairman Mark Munroe, who also heads the county Republican Party, said, “I’m a little surprised that this issue is once again in front of the board. There’s a lot of talk about the democratic process. The citizens of Youngstown have had numerous opportunities to speak, and they’ve said, ‘No.’ But in addition, both the General Assembly of Ohio and the Supreme Court have made it clear that boards of elections have not just the authority but a duty to act when presented with an issue like this, which is outside the scope of Youngstown’s power to enact via initiative.”
Ray Beiersdorfer, who, like his wife, backs the proposal, told the board, “You’re trying to keep it off the ballot because it’s going to win, because there’s concerns about the drinking water.”
He added, “We’re going to challenge it in the Supreme Court, and we’re not going to stop.”