Thompson v. DeWine, No. 20-3526 (6th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
The Plaintiffs claimed that Ohio’s COVID-19 restrictions and stay-at-home orders have made it impossibly difficult for them to meet existing requirements for initiatives to secure a place on the November ballot, in violation of their First Amendment rights. An Ohio petition for a referendum must include signatures from 10 percent of the applicable jurisdiction’s electors that voted in the last gubernatorial election, each signature must “be written in ink,” and the initiative’s circulator must witness each signature. The initiative’s proponents must submit these signatures to the Secretary of State 125 days before the election for a constitutional amendment and 110 days before the election for a municipal ordinance. Ohio’s officials postponed the Ohio primary election but declined to further modify state election law.
The district court granted a preliminary injunction, imposing a new deadline and prescribing the type of signature that the state must accept. The Sixth Circuit granted a stay of the injunction. Ohio’s compelling and well-established interests in administering its ballot initiative regulations outweigh the intermediate burden those regulations place on the plaintiffs. Ohio specifically exempted conduct protected by the First Amendment from its stay-home orders; the court means by which petitioners could obtain signatures. By unilaterally modifying the Ohio Constitution’s ballot initiative regulations, the district court usurped this authority from Ohio electors.