Toledo passes two citizen initiatives in special election

Two citizen initiatives were approved in Toledo, Ohio, on February 26, 2019. Question 1, backed by Keep the Jail Downtown Toledo, received 80 percent approval on election night. The initiative was designed to amend the Toledo City Charter to restrict the location of newly constructed jails and other facilities used to house those accused or convicted of crimes to the city’s downtown overlay district. Proponents led the effort to place Question 1 on the ballot in response to a proposal by the Lucas County Board of Commissioners that would authorize construction of a new jail facility outside of the downtown overlay district in North Toledo.
Question 2, known as the “Lake Erie Bill of Rights,” received 61 percent approval on election night. The initiative, backed by Toledoans for Safe Water, was designed to amend the city charter by adding a bill of rights stating that the Lake Erie ecosystem has the “right to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.” The initiative also added provisions to the city charter stating that the people of Toledo have certain rights, including the “right to a clean and healthy environment” and the “right to self-government.” Under the initiative, both the city and residents would be permitted to enforce the provisions through court action. The group Toledoans for Safe Water formed after the city issued a drinking water advisory for three days in August 2014. During that time, city residents were advised not to drink water from Lake Erie, where toxin levels had risen above the World Health Organization’s safety recommendation due to a harmful algal bloom (HAB). The group stated that Question 2 was designed to maintain residents’ access to safe and clean drinking water.
The Lucas County Board of Elections originally rejected both questions from the November 2018 ballot, stating that the city would be unable to enforce the proposed provisions. After proponents filed lawsuits, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in both cases that the county’s rejection of the measures had been lawful. Proponents then brought the initiatives before the Toledo City Council. The council voted unanimously on October 4, 2018, to place Question 1 on the special election ballot, and unanimously on December 4, 2018, to place Question 2 on the ballot. Following these city council votes, the Lucas County Board of Elections added the measures to the ballot.
Lucas County reported that turnout in the special election was at 9 percent of registered voters.