No initiative campaigns submitted signatures in Ohio on the Dec. 25 deadline. In Ohio, initiated statutes are indirect, requiring 132,887 signatures in 2021 to go before the Ohio State Legislature. If enough signatures are submitted, the legislature has the option to approve an initiative without a vote of electors. If the state legislature does not adopt an indirect initiative, the initiated statute becomes direct, requiring an additional 132,887 signatures (for a grand total of 265,774) to go before voters in 2021.
The signature deadline was 10 days before the Ohio State Legislature will convene on January 4, 2021.
Ohioans for Gun Safety, which sponsored the Ohio Background Checks for Firearm Purchases Initiative, announced in December 2019 that it would target the 2021 ballot instead of the 2020 ballot. Dennis Willard, a spokesperson for Ohioans for Gun Safety, said, “We think that 2021 gives us the best opportunity to have a clear and simple and straight forward conversation with Ohio voters that background checks for gun safety will save lives and reduce gun violence.” The initiative would have required that an unlicensed person wishing to sell or transfer a firearm to another person to conduct the transfer through a licensed gun dealer running a background check. The campaign did not submit signatures by the deadline.
Between 1995 and 2020, 45 measures appeared on statewide ballots in Ohio. Voters approved 53.3% (24 of 45) and rejected 46.7% (21 of 45) of the statewide ballot measures.
Incumbent Larry Householder (R) defeated four write-in candidates—Marci McCaulay (D), Jay Conrad (R), Robert Leist (L), and Kaitlyn Clark (I)—in the general election for Ohio’s House of Representatives District 72. Householder ran unopposed in the April 28 Republican primary.
On July 21, 2020, after the filing deadline for additional candidates to appear on the ballot, Householder was arrested and charged with conspiracy to participate in a racketeering scheme. He was accused of collecting more than $60 million in exchange for legislation that would bail out two nuclear plants in Ohio. The bailout was valued at $1.5 billion.
At the time of his arrest, Householder had been serving as Speaker of the House since 2019 when he defeated sitting House Speaker Ryan Smith (R). The House removed him from the position by a 90-0 vote on July 30.
In response to his arrest, on Sept. 1, Householder said, “[I]n the United States, we believe that you’re innocent until you’re proven guilty. And that day has not occurred … And so, I am innocent. I am going to defend myself vigorously.” Householder entered a plea of not guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephanie Bowman on Sept. 3.
Householder previously served in the House from 1997 to 2004, including a tenure as Speaker of the House from 2001 to 2004. He returned to the House representing District 72 in 2016 and won re-election in 2018.
Incumbent Steve Chabot (R) defeated Kate Schroder (D) and Kevin Kahn (L) in the general election for Ohio’s 1st Congressional District. Chabot was first elected in 1994 and won re-election in every year since, other than 2008. He last won election in 2018, defeating Aftab Pureval 51.3% to 46.9%.
Both parties’ Hill committees targeted the 1st District this year. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) included Schroder on its list of Red to Blue candidates, while the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) placed Chabot in its Patriot Program. The two groups spent a combined $5 million in the district.
The U.S. Senate confirmed Michael Newman to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio by a 67-30 vote on October 22, 2020. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio is one of 94 U.S. District Courts. They are the general trial courts of the United States federal courts.
After Newman receives his federal judicial commission and takes his judicial oath, the eight-member court will have five Republican-appointed judges and three Democrat-appointed judges. Newman will join three other judges appointed by President Trump.
The U.S. Senate has confirmed 219 of President Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—two Supreme Court justices, 53 appellate court judges, 162 district court judges, and two U.S. Court of International Trade judges—since January 2017.
Newman was a federal magistrate judge for the Southern District of Ohio from 2011 to 2020. Before that, he worked in private practice and as a law clerk to the Southern District of Ohio’s Magistrate Judge Jack Sherman and to U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit Judge Nathaniel Jones. Newman earned his bachelor of fine arts degree from New York University in 1982, and his J.D., cum laude, from American University’s Washington College of Law in 1989.
On Sept. 18, Lucas County Probate Judge Jack Puffenberger selected John Hobbs III, Vanice Williams, Tiffany Preston Whitman, and Cerssandra McPherson to fill vacancies on the Toledo City Council. Each will hold their position in a temporary capacity while legal proceedings continue for four previous council members.
On July 21, council members Tyrone Riley, Yvonne Harper, Larry Sykes, and Gary Johnson were suspended from office after being charged with bribery, extortion, and conspiracy. According to an FBI investigation, the four members are alleged to have accepted $34,000 in bribes in return for votes on zoning requests. All four voluntarily stepped down from their council positions in July.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) stated: “Until allegations of public corruption are resolved in court, a suspension is the proper remedy to balance the accused’s right of a presumption of innocence with the public’s interest to have a functioning city council.”
Hobbs, Williams, Whitman, and McPherson assumed office on Sept. 22. Though the position is non-partisan, the Toledo Blade identified all four as Democrats. Each council member will hold their position in a temporary capacity until their predecessor’s term ends or until the suspended council member resigns or is found innocent.
Incumbent Judith French and Jennifer L. Brunner are running in the general election for Ohio Supreme Court on November 3, 2020.
Justice French was appointed to the Ohio Supreme Court by Gov. John Kasich (R). She assumed office on January 1, 2013. She advanced from the Republican primary for Ohio Supreme Court on April 28, 2020. Her previous political experience includes serving as chief legal council for Gov. Bob Taft (R) from 2002 through 2004 and as assistant attorney general to Betty Montgomery (R) from 1997 through 2002.
Brunner advanced from the Democratic primary for Ohio Supreme Court on April 28, 2020. She served as Ohio secretary of state from 2007 until 2011 and was elected to the 10th District Court of Appeals in 2014.
Two justices of the Ohio Supreme Court face re-election this year. In addition to Justice French, Justice Sharon L. Kennedy will stand for re-election. Justice Kennedy advanced from the Republican primary for Ohio Supreme Court on April 28, 2020.
Two justices currently on the Ohio Supreme Court have advanced from Democratic primaries to win the general election, and five justices on the Ohio Supreme Court have advanced from Republican primaries to win the general election. If both incumbents are defeated in the November general election, the court will have a majority of justices who have advanced from Democratic primaries.
Amid an ongoing federal investigation, the Ohio House of Representatives voted unanimously on July 30 to remove Rep. Larry Householder (R) from his leadership position as house speaker. State representatives introduced the motion for removal shortly after a federal grand jury indicted Householder on racketeering charges.
The House voted 55-38 that same day to select Bob Cupp (R) as the new speaker. House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes issued a statement that indicated no members of the Democratic Caucus voted for Cupp. In his address to the chamber, Cupp said, “It is a great privilege to lead this chamber. Sorry it is in such difficult and trying and unprecedented times as this, however, but I pledge to do so honorably and fairly and humbly.”
Both Householder and Cupp are running for re-election this year. Householder advanced unopposed from the April 28 Republican primary in District 72 and is running unopposed in the general election on November 3. Cupp ran unopposed in the District 4 Republican primary and faces Libertarian candidate Christina Marie Holloway in the general election.
Householder, along with four others, was arrested on July 21 and charged with conspiracy to participate in a racketeering scheme. Householder was accused of collecting more than $60 million in exchange for legislation that would bail out two nuclear plants.
On July 22, three of the four Toledo City Council members currently under investigation on federal charges of bribery, extortion, and conspiracy voluntarily suspended their positions. Yvonne Harper, Tyrone Riley, and Larry Sykes agreed to the suspension after Attorney General of Ohio Dave Yost (R) filed a request for suspension proceedings. They did not resign from their positions; temporary replacements that have yet to be appointed will fulfill the duties of their offices during the investigation. The fourth councilmember under investigation, Gary Johnson, continued to serve in his capacity as a councilmember as of July 23.
Harper, Johnson, Riley, and Sykes were arrested on June 30 on charges of bribery and extortion. The charges resulted from a two-year investigation begun by the FBI in 2016, and alleged that the four officials accepted $34,000 in bribes among them. On July 21, a grand jury indicted the councilmembers, along with attorney Keith Mitchell, on additional charges of extortion and conspiracy.
Probate judge Jack R. Puffenberger will appoint replacements for Harper, Riley, and Sykes to serve on the city council in a temporary capacity for the duration of the investigation.
A Republican committee in the Ohio House of Representatives appointed Alessandro “Al” Cutrona (R) to the District 59 seat on May 28. The seat became vacant when late state Rep. Don Manning (R) died unexpectedly in March. Cutrona was sworn in on May 28.
Cutrona is an attorney and works as the chief operating officer and in-house counsel at an infectious disease medical practice in Youngstown, Ohio. He will serve the remainder of Manning’s unexpired term, which ends on December 31, 2020.
Cutrona fills the only vacancy that has occurred in the Ohio legislature this year. With his appointment, the partisan composition of the Ohio House of Representatives is 61 Republicans and 38 Democrats. Ohio has a Republican state government trifecta, which exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.
The Republican Party has held a majority in the Ohio State Senate continuously since 1992 and a majority in the Ohio House of Representatives from 1994 until 2008 and again from 2010 to the present.
On May 19, U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus ordered Ohio to accept electronic signatures from the campaigns sponsoring the Minimum Wage Increase Initiative and the Voting Requirements Initiative. The judge also extended the signature deadline from July 1 to July 31. The judge’s order only applies to the ballot measure campaigns that sued the state, including several local marijuana decriminalization initiative campaigns.
On March 30, 2020, Ohioans for Raise the Wage and Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections filed a lawsuit in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas asking for the July 1 signature deadline to be extended, the number of signatures required to be reduced, and permission to gather signatures online. On April 28, Judge David C. Young dismissed the case arguing that since the petition requirements for initiatives are in the Ohio Constitution “the ability to change those requirements is reserved only to the people.” He added that there is no exception for public health emergencies. Following the case dismal, the campaigns brought their case to the federal court.
U.S. District Judge Sargus argued in his opinion that “these unique historical circumstances of a global pandemic and the impact of Ohio’s Stay-at-Home Orders, the State’s strict enforcement of the signature requirements for local initiatives and constitutional amendments severely burden Plaintiff’s First Amendment rights.” The ruling did not change the number of signatures required or the state’s distribution requirement.
Ohio filed an appeal of the ruling on May 20. If the decision is not reversed, Ohioans for Raise the Wage and Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections have until July 31 to collect 443,958 valid signatures.
The Minimum Wage Initiative would incrementally increase the state’s minimum wage to $13 per hour by January 1, 2025. After 2025, the minimum wage would be tied to inflation. The first increase would be on January 1, 2021, to $9.60 per hour.
The Voting Requirements Initiative would remove the requirement that voters must be registered 30 days prior to an election; require absentee ballots requested by military personnel or voters outside of the U.S. be sent 46 days before the election; automatically register citizens at motor vehicle departments unless the citizen refuses registration via a written statement; allow voter registration at polling locations; and require 28 days of early voting.
Ballotpedia has identified 11 lawsuits in nine states seeking changes or suspensions of ballot measure requirements. The topics of the lawsuits include:
• the number of signatures required,
• notary requirements for remote signatures,
• the ability to collect signatures electronically, and
• the extension of signature deadlines.
Before March 2020, no states allowed the use of electronic signatures for statewide initiative and referendum petitions. While some states allowed remote signatures through petition sheets printed, signed, and mailed, no states allowed remote signature gathering through email before the coronavirus pandemic.
On April 29, 2020, Massachusetts became the first state to allow campaigns to collect electronic signatures for statewide citizen-initiatives for the 2020 cycle after four campaigns filed a lawsuit and the secretary of the commonwealth agreed to a settlement.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) signed an executive order on May 17 that authorized the Colorado Secretary of State to establish temporary rules allowing for remote petition signature gathering to be signed through mail and email. The rules were expected to be finalized by the Secretary of State in early June. Prior to the order, petition circulators were required to witness each act of signing in person. The order also removed individual initiative signature deadlines of six months after ballot language finalization and instead required that signatures for all initiatives are due by August 3, 2020.
The Washington, D.C., Council passed a bill on May 5 that allowed remote signature gathering for initiative campaigns through email.
On May 13, 2020, the Arizona Supreme Court rejected a request made by four ballot initiative campaigns to allow them to gather signatures through E-Qual, which is the state’s online signature collection platform, during the coronavirus pandemic.
On April 30, Missoula District Judge John Larson rejected a request by Montana ballot initiative petitioners to allow them to use electronic signatures. Judge Larson ruled that the State’s “compelling interest in maintaining the integrity and security of its election process outweighs any burden on [the] Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.”