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OHIO VOTING

Groups sue to block restrictions on ballots

COLUMBUS — Two groups involved in ballot-issue efforts sued in federal court Friday to block a new state law placing restrictions on the process used to put questions directly to voters.

The suit in U.S. District Court charges that the restrictions on who can gather signatures and when they can do it violate Ohioans’ First Amendment rights of free speech and association.

The suit was brought by Ohioans for Workplace Freedom, a statewide group working to enact a right-to-work constitutional amendment, and Cincinnati for Pension Reform, which has placed a change to that city’s charter on the local November ballot. They’ve been joined by Citizens in Charge, a national group that wants to change Ohio’s initiative and referendum process.

Senate Bill 47, sponsored by Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati) and passed solely with GOP votes, halts the circulation of petitions once an initial batch of signatures is filed with the Secretary of state’s office to enact a law or constitutional amendment or to challenge a law already passed. Previously, petition efforts would continue to gather signatures while county boards of election pore over those filed to verify validity. That way, they would be in a better position to augment signatures during a subsequent 10-day “cure” period if the initial petitions come up short.

The law also prohibits non-Ohioans from circulating petitions, a move that restricts the hiring of out-of-state firms that import manpower to get the job done.

The lawsuit urges the court to issue an injunction preventing Secretary of State Jon Husted from enforcing the law, which he is doing with a separate petition submitted by opponents of a new law designed to all but shut down Internet “sweepstakes” cafes in the state. Signature gathering has stopped in that referendum effort while the group’s first filings are checked.

In the court filing, Ohioans for Workplace Freedom claims to have gathered more than 100,000 signatures toward the roughly 385,000 needed for a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban so-called “fair-share fees” in lieu of dues from workers who refuse to join a workplace union. The group is targeting the November, 2014, ballot.

The suit indicates Chris Littleton, a Workplace Freedom member, wants to contract with an out-of-state firm to further its efforts.

During legislative debate, Mr. Seitz argued that reform was needed to bring uniformity to the petition circulation process. He noted that secretaries of state previously could affect ballot issue efforts by prolonging or shortening the time that boards of elections used to verify signatures.

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