Lawsuit Challenges Ohio Residency Law – Again

Mon, Sep 23 2013 by Neal Hobson

Last Friday, Ohio’s 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a non-partisan legal foundation, filed a federal court challenge against Senate Bill 47, which reinstitutes a residency requirement (struck down previously in federal court) and also reduces the time petitioners have to gather signatures. The law, passed earlier this year by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed into law by Republican Governor John Kasich, went into effect in June.

“SB 47 consists of a set of back-door mechanisms that have the effect of eliminating initiative and referendum in Ohio, expunging the average citizen from participating in the political process without the assistance of politicians, and strengthening politicians’ monopoly on lawmaking,” said Maurice Thompson, executive director of the 1851 Center and the attorney representing the plaintiffs: Citizens in Charge, Cincinnati for Pension Reform, Ohioans for Workplace Freedom, and Christopher Littleton. 

In 2009, after Ohio’s previous residency requirement for presidential nominating petitions was overturned in federal court, then-Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner issued an advisory to county boards of election, stating, “the residency requirement for circulators of initiative and referendum petitions in R.C. 3503.06(B)(1) is unenforceable” adding “no Ohio board of elections may invalidate a candidate or issue petition for the sole reason that the circulator of the petition is not an Ohio elector or an Ohio resident.” 

But, as if the federal court could simply be ignored or overruled, Ohio legislators passed a new residency statute and the current Secretary of State, Jon Husted, has decided to enforce it.

“Senate Bill 47 establishes an absolute prohibition of signature-gathering by anyone not residing in Ohio,” according to a news release from the 1851 Center. “This prohibits Ohioans from contracting with out-of-staters, even though there are virtually no Ohio businesses that offer petition circulation. Ohioans are also prohibited from seeking assistance from volunteers who do not reside in Ohio.”

Moreover, the release continues, “Legislators exempted themselves from these restrictions, creating an exception to candidate-nominating petitions.”

In addition to the unconstitutional residency requirement, Senate Bill 47 also ends the ability of petitioners to gather signatures in the time between the initial turn-in of petitions and a notification from the Secretary of State that the ballot measure is short of the required signatures, which triggers a 10-day grace period to gather the remaining signatures.

The lawsuit contends that the new law violates both the Ohio Constitution and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Read the Citizens in Charge v. Husted legal complaint here:

Read the Citizens in Charge v. Husted motion for a preliminary injunction here:

Read former Secretary of State Brunner’s May 18, 2009 Advisory here:

Read the 1851 Center’s Testimony to the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission, defending Ohioans Initiative and Referendum rights here: