Judge seek more information in East Liverpool traffic camera suit
LISBON — As the clock continues to tick away toward the Nov. 5 election, the judge in the East Liverpool traffic camera lawsuit is seeking more information from all parties before making a decision on whether the issue can remain on the ballot.
County Common Pleas Court Judge Scott Washam will give the attorneys for all parties until 4 p.m. Friday to provide him with case law supporting their positions in the lawsuit filed last week by East Liverpool seeking a preliminary injunction to have the traffic camera issue removed from the ballot.
The traffic camera issue is currently scheduled to appear on the ballot, and the county elections board has already printed 1,100 absentee ballots with the issue on it for East Liverpool residents who may want to vote early, which begins Oct. 8. The absentee ballots printed for the rest of the county would be unaffected.
Washam held a hearing Tuesday with the attorneys and the parties they represent but decided after the 70-minute session he needed to see their legal arguments in writing before making a decision.
The elections board proposed leaving the traffic camera issue on the East Liverpool ballots but hold off counting those votes until the city’s lawsuit is resolved. East Liverpool officials want it removed from the ballot and offered to pay to have the 1,100 absentee ballots reprinted without the issue, which would cost an estimated $5,000.
The elections board has already begun receiving requests for absentee ballots, and Washam asked if they could hold off until he issues a ruling, which is likely early next week. Elections board director Kim Fusco said they are required by law to begin mailing out absentee ballots on Oct. 8 to those who requested them. Plus, anyone stopping by the board offices can vote absentee starting then too.
“At this point it’s too late in the game,” she told him.
The remaining ballots to be used on election day have yet to be printed, but Fusco is concerned about any further delays since the election is just five weeks away. The ballots are at the printer but the company was told by election officials to hold off until the judge rules on the preliminary injunction motion.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Fusco said the bigger concern is reprogramming the optical scanners used at the polling places to scan the paper ballots and the machine at the board office that tabulates the results, all of which will have to be tested after being programmed. She said the earliest the company that does the programming could be in the county is Sunday.
Fusco said that gives them two days to order new absentee ballots for East Liverpool voters and reprogram and test the scanners. “Forty-eight hours is not sufficient amount of time in my eyes,” she said.
This is East Liverpool’s second attempt to prevent the issue from being voted on. The citizens group seeking to repeal the traffic camera law first tried to get the issue on the ballot in 2017, and that resulted in court action and an appeal. On Sept. 19 the Ohio 7th District Court of Appeals ruled in East Liverpool’s favor, saying the 2017 petitions were flawed because they were filed under 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 issue is on the ballot in November. This is the petition effort East Liverpool is currently seeking to invalidate. This is the petition that is the subject of the lawsuit filed by East Liverpool on Sept. 26.
The issue, if approved by voters, would repeal the East Liverpool law that allows for the use of traffic cameras to catch speeding cameras.
East Liverpool Law Director Charles Payne has raised several legal issues why he believes the issue should be removed from the ballot. He said to let the vote go forward only to have the issue removed from the ballot after the election would cause the city “irreparable harm” because officials would have to spend money and time in mounting a campaign to fight the effort.
Assistant County Prosecutor Krista Peddicord pointed out the law prohibits East Liverpool from spending public funds to oppose the ballot issue, so any effort would involve private donations and volunteers. She also argued that it would be a hardship for the elections board if forced to remove the issue from the ballot because of the disruption that would result.
Youngstown attorney Kevin Daley, representing the citizens group, wondered how East Liverpool can consider spending money to fight the issue during the election when it is willing to spend $5,000 to replace the 1,100 absentee ballots so it can be removed.
Peddicord, Daley and his co-counsel, Mark Hanni, said keeping the issue on the ballot and ordering the results not be counted until Washam issues a final ruling after the election is the best course that causes the least amount of disruption. “All they’re trying to do is circumvent the vote of the people” Hanni said of East Liverpool.