Ohio Supreme Court rules Kent officials unconstitutionally blocked 'Democracy Day' ballot issue

September 18, 2015
Jeremy Pelzer

COLUMBUS, OH – The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously ruled that supporters of a proposed "Democracy Day" in Kent have enough petition signatures to put the idea on the November ballot.

The 7-0 decision means that Ohio cities can't make it harder for citizens to get issues on the ballot than what the state constitution calls for, though it's unclear how many communities will be affected by the ruling.

In its ruling, the state's highest court held that Kent's municipal charter wrongfully set a higher threshold for petition signatures than the Ohio Constitution, which requires signatures equal to 10 percent of votes cast at the last election – or 333 signatures, in the case of Kent.

Even though "Democracy Day" supporters submitted 621 valid signatures, Kent city officials blocked the initiative on the grounds that their charter requires signatures from 10 percent of all registered voters – which, right now, would be 1,707 signatures.

In an unsigned opinion, the court didn't accept Kent's argument that it had home-rule authority to set a higher threshold.

"If the amendment procedures spelled out in a municipal charter conflict with the Ohio Constitution, the constitutional provisions will prevail," the court stated in its opinion.

The initiative calls for Kent to hold a "Democracy Day" during the first week of October every election year. On that day, a public hearing would be held on the impact that corporate campaign contributions have on local, state and national politics. 

After each such hearing, the Kent City Council clerk would have to send a letter to state and federal officials summarizing the hearing. The letter would also assert that corporations do not have constitutional rights and that regulating campaign donations and spending does not limit political speech.

Under the proposal, the hearings would continue until a federal constitutional amendment is ratified affirming those assertions.

The initiative is part of a nationwide "Move To Amend" campaign pushing for the proposed constitutional amendment.

The Kent ballot initiative was organized by city residents Kathryn and William Wilen, among others. 

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