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State ex rel. Stevens v. Fairfield County Board of Elections

Supreme Court of Ohio

March 29, 2018

The State ex rel. Stevens
v.
Fairfield County Board of Elections.

          Submitted March 22, 2018

         In Mandamus.

          McTigue & Colombo, L.L.C., Donald J. McTigue, J. Corey Colombo, Derek S. Clinger, and Ben F.C. Wallace, for relator.

          R. Kyle Witt, Fairfield County Prosecuting Attorney, and Joshua S. Horacek and Amy Brown Thompson, Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys, for respondent.

          Per Curiam

         {¶ 1} In this expedited election case, relator, Jason Stevens, seeks a writ of mandamus to compel respondent, the Fairfield County Board of Elections, to issue a certificate of nomination to certify Stevens's name for placement on the May 8, 2018 primary-election ballot as a candidate for election to the Ohio Democratic Party State Central Committee. For the reasons set forth below, we grant the writ.

          Background

         {¶ 2} Stevens filed a petition to appear on the May 8 primary ballot as a candidate for the Ohio Democratic Party State Central Committee, as Member for the 20th Senate District. On February 15, 2018, the board voted three to zero, with one abstention, to deny Stevens access to the ballot because, according to the meeting minutes, "his voting history did not show he was a member of the Democratic Party."

         {¶ 3} The board sent Stevens a letter, which was dated February 22 but was not received by Stevens until February 26, informing him of its decision. The letter explained the board's decision by stating:

[Y]ou are not affiliated with a political party. Because of your unaffiliated status you are unable to run as a candidate for the partisan position of State Central Committee Member.

         {¶ 4} On February 27, Stevens asked the board to reconsider its decision. The board indicated that it would consider the request at its March 5 meeting. On that date, Stevens's counsel presented two affidavits to the board, one by Stevens and the other by N. Zachary West, general counsel of the Ohio Democratic Party, and, according to the minutes from that meeting, "explained why [Stevens and West] felt that Mr. Stevens was a Democratic Party member." The board adj ourned without taking any action on the request for reconsideration.

         {¶ 5} On March 8, 2018, Stevens filed this complaint for a writ of mandamus against the board of elections. Because this case was filed within 90 days of the May 8 election, the parties submitted briefs in accordance with the accelerated schedule for expedited elections cases in Sup.Ct.Prac.R. 12.08.

          Analysis

         A. Standard of review

         {¶ 6} To be entitled to a writ of mandamus, a relator must establish, by clear and convincing evidence, (1) a clear legal right to the requested relief, (2) a clear legal duty on the part of the respondent to provide it, and (3) the lack of an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of the law. State ex rel. Waters v. Spaeth, 131 Ohio St.3d 55, 2012-Ohio-69, 960 N.E.2d 452, ¶ 6, 13. Given that the May 2018 election is imminent, Stevens does not have an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of the law. See State ex rel. Stewart v. Clinton Cty. Bd. of Elections, 124 Ohio St.3d 584, 2010-Ohio-1176, 925 N.E.2d 601, ¶ 17 (holding that the relator had no adequate remedy at law because the election was imminent at the time the county elections board denied the relator's protest); State ex rel. Finkbeiner v. Lucas Cty. Bd. of Elections, 122 Ohio St.3d 462, 2009-Ohio-3657, 912 N.E.2d 573, ¶ 18 (same).

         {¶ 7} When reviewing the decision of a county board of elections, the standard is whether the board engaged in fraud or corruption, abused its discretion, or acted in clear disregard of applicable legal provisions. State ex rel. Holwadel v. Hamilton Cty. ...


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