Federal Appeals Court Temporarily Stops Petitioners from Gathering Electronic Signatures Amid COVID-19

 

Ohioans seeking to collect electronic signatures for petitions during the coronavirus must temporarily stop doing so, a federal appeals court ruled.

The U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals said in its Tuesday judgment that even though the coronavirus has made it “difficult” for petitioners to gather signatures, it does not mean it can’t be done.

“It may well be that the new methods for gathering signatures and verifying them proposed by Plaintiffs (using electronic signatures gathered online by third parties and identified by social security number) will prove workable,” the decision said. “But they may also pose serious security concerns and other, as yet unrealized, problems. So the decision to drastically alter Ohio’s election procedures must rest with the Ohio Secretary of State and other elected officials, not the courts.”

Also in their opinion, the judges said they did not believe the plaintiffs’ argument the social distancing methods have prevented them from getting as many signatures as it would without social distancing practices.

“There’s no reason that Plaintiffs can’t advertise their initiatives within the bounds of our current situation, such as through social or traditional media inviting interested electors to contact them and bring the petitions to the electors’ homes to sign,” the decision said. “Or Plaintiffs could bring their petitions to the public by speaking with electors and witnessing the signatures from a safe distance, and sterilizing writing instruments between signatures.”

The judges also noted Gov. Mike DeWine did not prohibit First Amendment-protected activities during his health orders.

This ruling overturns the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio Eastern Division’s May 19 decision that allowed petition gatherers to sign electronic signatures.

Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections (OSFE), who brought the initial lawsuit, was discouraged by the appeals court after it overturned the district court’s ruling.

“This is a very disappointing ruling from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The three-judge panel has said that collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures during a global pandemic was within the capacity of the campaign, but we know, other courts across the country know, and our diverse coalition of supporters knows that to embark on traditional signature collection during this time would have been dangerous, unethical, immoral, and absurd,” said Toni Webb, the campaign manager for OSFE in a statement. “Given the rapid pace of the litigation, we continue to consider our path forward and evaluate our next steps.”

“Our commitment has always been to voters. The state’s drastic move to stop our campaign from moving forward reveal their true priorities when it comes to the rights of Ohio voters,” she added. “The response from Ohio officials underscores why people, not politicians, should decide how to update Ohio’s election laws.”

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Zachery Schmidt is the digital editor of Star News Digital Media. If you have any tips, email Zachery at [email protected] Follow Zachery on Twitter @zacheryschmidt2.
Photo “Petition Gatherers” by Joe Mabel. CC BY-SA 3.0.

 

 

 

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