A coalition of activists from Youngstown and other parts of Ohio have filed a federal lawsuit accusing the state and local elections boards of violating their constitutional rights by preventing voters from deciding environmental issues.

The 62-page civil suit was filed in U.S. District Court by members of grassroots environmental groups in seven Ohio counties, including Susie Beiersdorfer and Dario Hunter of Frackfree Mahoning Valley, which has been unsuccessful eight times in backing a ballot issue to ban fracking inside Youngstown city limits.

In addition to former Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, the boards of elections in Mahoning and six other counties are named as defendants.

The lawsuit claims that election boards and the Ohio Secretary of State have violated the groups' constitutional right to free speech and due process by rejecting petitions signed by hundreds and thousands of registered voters seeking ballot space on issues dealing with clean water, fracking, injection wells, and other environmental concerns.

The groups say election officials and the Secretary of State should not be allowed to keep questions from the voters based on the content of the issues.

Election boards and the Secretary of State's Office in many instances have said that the ballot issues sought by the environmental groups for local communities and counties would attempt to circumvent state laws that already regulate oil and gas operations in Ohio.

The suit also challenges the constitutionality of House Bill 463 passed in 2017 which the lawsuit says further enforces the ability of election boards to reject voter initiatives based on the content of those initiatives.

Other Plaintiffs

In addition to Frackfree Mahoning Valley, other plaintiffs include members of the Columbus Community Rights Group which failed to place an anti-fracking issue on the ballot after it was rejected by the Franklin County Board of elections.

Members of Toledoans for Safe Water claim in the lawsuit that Lucas County Board of Elections rejected their initiative to enact a “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” after algae blooms in the lake caused a shutdown of the regional water supply in 2014.

The Meigs County Home Rule Committee's efforts to enact a home rule charter that included bans on underground injection wells was rejected by the Secretary of State, according to the lawsuit.

In southeastern Ohio, the Athens Community Bill of Rights Committee circulated petitions for a county-wide vote to ban injection wells was rejected by the Athens County Board of Elections.

Efforts by Sustainable Medina County included an effort to put a stop to the Nexus gas pipeline, which runs from Columbiana County to Michigan. The lawsuit says petitions for a county charter initiative opposing the pipeline were rejected by then Secretary of State Husted.

A county charter initiative that would have included prohibitions on fracking and injection wells by the Portage Community Rights Group was given a thumbs down by the Portage County Board of Elections.

The suit asks a federal judge to declare as unconstitutional, parts of House Bill 463 that allows the review of ballot initiatives based on their content.