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East Liverpool traffic camera issue maintains tenuous hold on ballot spot

LISBON — The East Liverpool traffic initiative will remain on the Nov. 5 ballot, with the results going uncounted until a final ruling is issued, and that could come before election day.

So ruled county Common Pleas Court Judge Scott Washam in a decision issued on Tuesday in the lawsuit filed by East Liverpool, which was seeking a temporary restraining order to remove the traffic camera issue from the ballot.

East Liverpool needed to demonstrate it would suffer “irreparable injury, loss or damage … “ if the traffic camera issue remained on the ballot before Washam could issue a final decision, but he ruled the city failed to make a valid case. He said it was the election process that would be impacted the most by removal of the ballot issue.

“The language of the initiative petition cannot now be removed from the ballot without interfering with and/or jeopardizing the integrity of the results of the other matters to be decided at the Nov. 5, 2019, general election,” he wrote.

Washam said there is one remaining issue to be decided: Whether the petitions to put the traffic camera issue on the ballot were again based on the wrong law, thereby invalidating them. Washam scheduled the matter for trial on Oct. 16 and ordered the county elections board to hold off counting the traffic initiative votes for now.

The traffic camera issue was scheduled to appear on the ballot when East Liverpool filed the lawsuit on Sept. 26 asking it be removed. The elections board had already printed 1,100 absentee ballots with the issue on it for East Liverpool residents who may want to vote early, which began Tuesday.

The elections board proposed leaving the traffic camera issue on all East Liverpool ballots but hold off counting the votes until the city’s lawsuit was resolved. East Liverpool officials wanted it removed from the ballot and offered to pay to have new ballots printed without the issue for city voters, at an estimated cost of $5,000.

Further complicating the situation is the elections board had already begun receiving requests for absentee ballots, and they are required by law to begin mailing out absentee ballots on Tuesday to those who asked for them. Plus, anyone stopping by the board offices can vote absentee starting Tuesday.

Elections board director Kim Fusco was also concerned about the other ballots to be used on election day because they had yet to be printed and time was running out. The ballots are at the printer but the company was told by election officials to hold off until Washam ruled. She emailed the company late yesterday giving them authorization to proceed.

Fusco is also in talks with the company on the best way to comply with the court order. She said there is a way they can record the voting results but not count them, “and we’re working with the vendor on the best way to do this.”

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 this November. This is the petition effort East Liverpool is currently seeking to invalidate with its lawsuit.

The issue, if approved by voters, would repeal the East Liverpool law that allows for the use of traffic cameras to catch speeding drivers.

Washam questioned the decisions made by East Liverpool in regard the 2018 petitions, including the actions of city auditor Marilyn Bosco. Approving the petitions is a two-step process, with the elections board determining the validity of the signatures and Bosco responsible for certifying the “sufficiency and validity” of the petitions.

“Under the circumstances, the delay of the City of East Liverpool and the resulting prejudice it caused cannot be excused,” Washam wrote.

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