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Login | December 07, 2023

Independent secretary of state candidate obtains signatures to be on ballot

Supreme Court
Public Information Office

Published: September 29, 2022

The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that Terpsehore Maras submitted a sufficient number of signatures to appear on the Nov. 8 general election ballot as an independent candidate for Ohio secretary of state.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose directed county boards of elections to submit all verified signatures for independent candidates to his office by July 5. In a per curiam opinion, the Court noted state law gives the boards until July 15 to verify signatures. LaRose’s office rejected nine signatures on Maras’ petitions sent to his office on July 12 and 14 from Cuyahoga and Columbiana counties.
The Supreme Court found that the secretary of state’s office improperly excluded the nine signatures that were verified by Cuyahoga and Columbiana counties. Those signatures put Maras above the 5,000 signatures required to be certified as an independent candidate for the office.
The Court ruled that LaRose did not have the authority to change the July 15 deadline and had to accept the petition signatures submitted by the date set in R.C. 3513.262.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Michael P. Donnelly, Melody Stewart, and Jennifer Brunner joined the opinion.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice R. Patrick DeWine stated that Maras failed to properly follow the rules for requesting a writ of mandamus because she did not include a proper affidavit, swearing that the information in her complaint was valid. He wrote the Court has strictly applied this requirement and has dismissed similar defectively filed cases.
Justice Patrick F. Fischer joined Justice DeWine’s opinion.
Justice Sharon L. Kennedy did not participate in the case.
Candidate Filed Petitions
In May 2022, Maras filed a nomination petition with the secretary of state’s office to run as an independent candidate for secretary of state in the November election. The office indicated she submitted 5,873 signatures in hopes of meeting the 5,000-signature requirement.
In June, LaRose sent a directive to county boards of elections establishing the procedure for processing the petitions of statewide independent candidates. The directive said each board must review and verify signatures on petition forms and submit them to his office by July 5.
LaRose’s office sent Maras’s petitions containing signatures to the respective county boards for verification. By the July 5 deadline, the counties returned certification forms to LaRose verifying 5,010 signatures, which qualified Maras to be placed on the ballot.
On July 12, Cuyahoga County’s board sent LaRose an amended certification form that validated eight more signatures, and on July 14, Columbiana County’s board sent a revised form validating one more signature for Maras.
That month, LaRose’s office told Maras her campaign submitted enough signatures and that she was certified as a candidate on the November ballot.
Petition Signatures Challenged
About two weeks after LaRose’s announcement, Justin Bis protested Maras’s candidacy. Bis argued that 65 of Maras’s signatures were invalid.
LaRose’s office scheduled a hearing on the protest, and appointed former Supreme Court of Ohio Justice Terrence O’Donnell to serve as the hearing officer. Former Justice O’Donnell recommended that 18 of the challenged signatures should be removed from the petition total. LaRose’s office reviewed the conclusions and determined that 17, rather than 18, signatures should be invalidated, which left Maras seven signatures short of qualifying for the ballot.
On Sept. 2, Maras requested a writ of mandamus from the Supreme Court, raising three objections
and arguing that 45 rejected signatures were valid. One of her objections centered on the secretary of state’s office’s refusal to count the nine signatures submitted by Cuyahoga and Columbiana counties after July 5.
Supreme Court Analyzed Election Law
R.C. 3513.262 states that no later than the “fifteenth day of July” the county boards must examine and determine the sufficiency of the signatures filed by an independent candidate and submit the certified total number of valid signatures to the secretary of state.
LaRose’s office argued that that the law places “an outer limit” on how much time the boards have to certify petitions and does not prohibit the secretary of state from instructing boards to complete the certification before July 15.
The Court stated that LaRose “effectively rewrote the statute” by changing the date from July 15 to July 5. If a statute is clear and unambiguous, the Court stated it will apply the law as written without adding or deleting words.
“The secretary has no more authority than the courts to change the language of the Revised Code; he must follow the plain language of the statute enacted by the General Assembly,” the opinion stated.
The Court stated the office disregarded the law when it refused to add the nine signatures. Having 5,002 valid signatures, Maras meets the requirement to be on the November ballot, the Court concluded.
Court Submission Defective, Dissent Asserted
In his dissent, Justice DeWine argued the majority allowed Maras to submit a challenge without following the proper procedure. The dissent explained that Maras’s submission was atypical in that she included an “acknowledgment” rather than a “jurat” with her filing. “The key difference is that an acknowledgment is not made under oath,” DeWine explained. “Mandamus petitions must be verified by affidavit,” the dissent stated, “and affidavits must be made under oath.”
Justice DeWine said that in the past, the court has “dismissed defective filings like Maras’s.”
“Rather than heed this evenhanded command, the majority grants one litigant an exemption. This comes at the expense of a predictable rule of law that applies equally to all,” Justice DeWine concluded.
The case is cited 2022-1083. State ex rel. Maras v. LaRose, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-3295.