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Case Name Thompson v. DeWine VR-OH-0085
Docket / Court 2:20-cv-02129 ( S.D. Ohio )
State/Territory Ohio
Case Type(s) Election/Voting Rights
Special Collection COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)
Case Summary
COVID-19 Summary: On April 27, 2020, ballot petition circulators and three Ohio voters filed this lawsuit against the Director of Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Secretary of State, challenging the constitutionality of Ohio’s in-person signature and witness requirements for ballot ... read more >
COVID-19 Summary: On April 27, 2020, ballot petition circulators and three Ohio voters filed this lawsuit against the Director of Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Secretary of State, challenging the constitutionality of Ohio’s in-person signature and witness requirements for ballot initiatives in light of COVID-19. The plaintiffs sought declaratory relief, a temporary restraining order, and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief. The court granted a preliminary injunction on May 19, which was stayed by the Sixth Circuit on May 26. The U.S. Supreme Court denied the plaintiff’s application to vacate the stay on June 25. The case is ongoing.


On April 27, 2020, ballot petition circulators and three Ohio voters filed this lawsuit against the Director of Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Secretary of State, challenging the constitutionality of Ohio’s in-person signature and witness requirements for ballot initiatives in light of COVID-19. The plaintiffs brought this lawsuit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the existing requirements for remote signature gathering for ballot initiatives violated plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the COVID pandemic and resulting state of emergency restrictions on public gatherings made it impossible for proponents of ballot measures to comply with Ohio’s ballot-access signature requirements. They said that applying the ballot requirements to the 2020 election without adjustment in light of the pandemic violated their equal protection and due process rights.

The plaintiffs sought declaratory relief and preliminary and permanent injunctions requiring the defendants to immediately place the plaintiff’s marijuana decriminalization initiatives on the November 3 election ballot directly without the need for supporting signatures from voters or, alternatively, suspend prohibitions against remote signature collection, extend filing deadlines for signature submission, develop timely, efficient and realistic procedures and practices for gathering and submitting signatures from voters, and reduce the number of voters' signatures required to ten percent of the number currently prescribed for the November 3, 2020 election. This lawsuit was filed at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, and assigned to Judge Edmund A. Sargus. The plaintiffs were represented by the Center for Competitive Democracy and private attorneys.

Concurrently, on April 27, 2020, the plaintiffs also submitted a motion for a temporary restraining order. The Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections and Ohioans for Raising the Wage each sought to intervene on April 30 and May 1, respectively. Both motions were granted on May 4.

On May 19, 2020, the district court granted in part the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, enjoining the defendants from enforcing the ink signature and witness requirements and the current deadline as applied to the plaintiffs and the intervening plaintiffs for the November 3 general election, and directing them to update the court by May 26 regarding adjustments to the enjoined requirements “so as to reduce the burden on ballot access.” They further ordered the defendants to accept electronically-signed and witnessed petitions from the intervening plaintiffs collected through the on-line signature collection plans and to meet and confer regarding any technical or security issues regarding those plans by May 26. 2020 WL 2557064. The court noted that in light of the COVID-19 pandemic “the state’s strict enforcement of the signature requirements for local initiatives and constitutional amendments severely burden plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights as applied here.”

The defendants appealed to the Sixth Circuit the next day asked the district court to stay its own order, pending appeal. The district court refused. 2020 WL 2614447. On May 26, the Sixth Circuit granted the stay pending appeal, finding that the defendants were likely to succeed on the merits of their appeal and that they would suffer serious and irreparable harm if the court enjoined them from conducting the election in accordance with lawfully enacted ballot-access regulations. 959 F.3d 804. The court explained: “[w]hether this intermediate burden on plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights passes constitutional muster depends on whether the state has legitimate interests to impose the burden that outweigh it. Here they offer two. Defendants claim the witness and ink requirements help prevent fraud by ensuring that the signatures are authentic. And the deadlines allow them time to verify signatures in an orderly and fair fashion, while also providing initiative proponents time to challenge any adverse decision in court. These interests are not only legitimate, they are compelling.”

The plaintiffs submitted an initial hearing en banc, petition for rehearing en banc, motion for reconsideration, and motion to vacate the stay pending appeal, all of which were denied on June 16, 2020. The same day, the plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate the stay and the Supreme Court denied the application on June 25. 2020 WL 3456705.

The case is ongoing.

Averyn Lee - 07/05/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Due Process: Procedural Due Process
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief denied
Preliminary relief granted
General
Voting
Voting access
Medical/Mental Health
COVID-19 Mitigation Denied
COVID-19 Mitigation Granted
COVID-19 Mitigation Requested
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Voting
Election administration
Voter qualifications
Voter registration rules
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) Ohio Department of Health
Ohio Secretary of State
Plaintiff Description Ballot petition circulators and three Ohio voters
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 04/27/2020
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
Docket(s)
2:20-cv-02129-EAS-CMV (S.D. Ohio)
VR-OH-0085-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/26/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Verified Complaint [ECF# 1]
VR-OH-0085-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/27/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiffs' Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and/or Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 4, 4-1]
VR-OH-0085-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/27/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendants' Memorandum in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Temporary Restraining Order / Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 40, 40-1]
VR-OH-0085-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/12/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiffs' Reply to Defendants' Response, R. 40, to Plaintiffs' Motion for Emergency Relief, R. 4 [ECF# 41, 41-1]
VR-OH-0085-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/13/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion and Order [ECF# 44] (2020 WL 2557064) (S.D. Ohio)
VR-OH-0085-0005.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 05/19/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [Ct. of App. ECF# 36-1, 36-2] (959 F.3d 804)
VR-OH-0085-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 05/26/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Emergency Application to Vacate Stay
VR-OH-0085-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/16/2020
Source: Supreme Court website
Opposition to Emergency Application to Vacate the Sixth Circuit's Stay
VR-OH-0085-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/22/2020
Source: Supreme Court website
Applicants' Reply
VR-OH-0085-0009.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/22/2020
Source: Supreme Court website
Order in Pending Case (2020 WL 3456705)
VR-OH-0085-0010.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 06/25/2020
Source: Supreme Court website
show all people docs
Judges McKeague, David William (W.D. Mich., Sixth Circuit) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-0006
Nalbandian, John Baylor (Sixth Circuit) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-0006
Sargus, Edmund A. Jr. (S.D. Ohio) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-0005 | VR-OH-0085-9000
Sutton, Jeffrey S. (Sixth Circuit) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-0006
Vascura, Chelsey M. Court not on record [Magistrate] show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Brown, Mark R. (Ohio) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-0001 | VR-OH-0085-0002 | VR-OH-0085-0004 | VR-OH-0085-0006 | VR-OH-0085-0007 | VR-OH-0085-0009 | VR-OH-0085-9000
Clinger, Derek S (Ohio) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-0006 | VR-OH-0085-9000
Hall, Oliver B. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-0001 | VR-OH-0085-0002 | VR-OH-0085-0004 | VR-OH-0085-0007 | VR-OH-0085-0009 | VR-OH-0085-9000
McTigue, Donald Joseph (Ohio) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-0006 | VR-OH-0085-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Carney, Stephen P. (Ohio) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-0006
Flowers, Benjamin M (Ohio) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-0006 | VR-OH-0085-0008
Hendershot, Michael J. (Ohio) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-0006 | VR-OH-0085-0008
Hirji, Shams H (Ohio) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-0006 | VR-OH-0085-0008
Keller, Zachary Paul (Ohio) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-0008
Pfeiffer, Julie M (Ohio) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-0003 | VR-OH-0085-9000
Walton, Michael Allan (Ohio) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-0003 | VR-OH-0085-9000
Yost, Dave (Ohio) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-0003 | VR-OH-0085-0008
Other Lawyers Bonham, Elizabeth (Ohio) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-9000
Carey, David J. (Ohio) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-9000
Ho, Dale E. (New York) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-9000
Levenson, Freda J. (Ohio) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-9000
Thomas, Tiffany Alora (New York) show/hide docs
VR-OH-0085-9000

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