Judge rules EL traffic camera vote counts
LISBON — The outcome of the East Liverpool traffic camera vote will finally be known after a judge lifted a temporary restraining order preventing the Columbiana County Board of Elections from publicly releasing the results.
County Common Pleas Court Judge Scott Washam ruled Friday the elections board can proceed with releasing the votes cast in the Nov. 5 election by East Liverpool residents on the traffic camera issue after deciding the petitions used to place the issue on the ballot were valid.
The next step is for the election board to confirm the results, and a special meeting has been scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today, unless East Liverpool takes immediate legal action seeking to again prevent this from happening until the city can appeal Washam’s decision.
A citizens group, East Liverpool Citizens Against Traffic Cameras, has tried for the past several years to get the ballot issue before voters which, if passed, would prevent East Liverpool from continuing to use traffic cameras to catch speeding motorists.
The initial petition effort was launched in 2017 and resulted in court action and an appeal. This past September, the Ohio 7th District Court of Appeals ruled in East Liverpool’s favor, saying the 2017 petitions were flawed because they were filed with the elections board based on the wrong law.
Meanwhile, the citizens group filed new and corrected petitions with the elections board in 2018, but it was too late to be placed on the ballot last year, which is why the traffic camera issue was scheduled to appear on the Nov. 5, 2019, ballot. East Liverpool then filed a lawsuit in September seeking to have the 2018 petition efforts also declared invalid as well, claiming the group again failed to follow proper procedures.
The city asked the issue be kept off the ballot, but Washam issued a temporary restraining order allowing the vote to go forward but requiring the elections board hold off releasing the results until he issued a ruling in the dispute. He said the crux of the dispute is whether the ballot issue was a referendum — which seeks to repeal existing legislation — or an initiative, which asks voters to enact new legislation.
East Liverpool argued the petitions were a referendum because it seeks to repeal the 2017 traffic camera ordinance, and the citizens group missed the filing deadline to place a referendum on the ballot. Washam said the petitions filed by the citizens group seeks to directly enact a law regulating the city’s authority over use of traffic cameras while also repealing the traffic camera ordinance, making it an initiative.
“As pointed out by the board of elections, it is necessary for the initiative petition of the East Liverpool Citizens Against Traffic Cameras to include a repeal provision in order to avoid having conflicting laws,” he said.
Washam pointed out the Ohio Supreme Court has in the past given citizen initiatives and referendum the benefit of the doubt and the law “should be liberally construed in favor of the power reserved so as to permit rather than preclude the exercise of such power, and the object clearly sought to be attained should be promoted rather than prevented or obstructed.”