The COVID-19 pandemic renders signature-gathering for campaigns effectively impossible, primarily because large in-person gatherings where signatures are traditionally gathered cannot occur; door-to-door canvassing for signatures would be insufficient on its own; and in either event neither would be successful in light of public health advice or orders to maintain social distance.
Ohio law sets forth a number of formal requirements for petition signature-gathering that, when combined with the pandemic, make it impossible for advocates to put a proposed constitutional amendment—such as the voting rights reforms proposed by Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections—on the ballot. These requirements include a total number of signatures, a geographic distribution of the signers, requirements that the signatures be personally witnessed, and requirements that signatures be in “ink,” thus implicitly rejecting the possibility of electronic signature gathering.
As applied in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohio’s signature requirements are invalid under the First and Fourteenth Amendments rights to free speech and political association.
On March 30, Plaintiffs Ohioans for Raising the Wage filed a Complaint for Preliminary and Permanent Injunctive Relief in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, along with a motion for preliminary injunction. We, Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections, moved to intervene and filed our complaint and PI motion on March 31.
On April 13, Defendants filed their opposition to both PI motions. We and Plaintiffs filed replies on April 20. On April 27, Defendants moved to dismiss both complaints. On April 28 the court denied both motions for preliminary injunction. Plaintiffs dismissed the case on April 30.