State ex rel. Williams v. Brown, 77-1038

Decision Date13 October 1977
Docket NumberNo. 77-1038,77-1038
Citation52 Ohio St.2d 13,6 O.O.3d 79,368 N.E.2d 838
Parties, 6 O.O.3d 79 The STATE, ex rel. WILLIAMS, v. BROWN, Secy. of State, et al.
CourtOhio Supreme Court

On July 15, 1977, a written petition was submitted to the Attorney General of Ohio, proposing an amendment to Section 1, Article V of the Ohio Constitution, to require that a voter must have been registered to vote for 30 days and to provide that any elector who fails to vote in at least one election during any period of four consecutive years shall cease to be an elector unless he again registers to vote.

After rejecting the original draft of the summary for the initiative petition, the Attorney General, on July 19, 1977, certified the initiative summary as a fair and truthful statement of the proposed amendment.

On August 8, 1977, the initiative petition was filed with Ted W. Brown, Secretary of State (respondent). Following the verification and determination of the sufficiency of the required signatures, respondent prepared the ballot title and included it and the proposed amendment on the ballot. After certifying the ballot, respondent began publication of the ballot, including the arguments and explanations in at least one newspaper in each county in the state, according to the dictates of Section 1g of Article II of the Ohio Constitution.

On September 12, 1977, Jane Williams (relator) filed an original action in this court, seeking a writ of mandamus directing respondent to strike the proposed amendment from the ballot at the November 1977 general election, and to instruct the local boards of elections not to conduct an election on this issue. In the alternative, relator asked for a writ of prohibition, prohibiting an election on the proposal in the November 1977 general election.

Green, Schiavoni, Murphy & Haines and Eugene Green, Youngstown, for relator.

Crabbe, Brown, Jones, Potts & Schmidt, William L. Schmidt and Ira O. Kane, Columbus, for respondent.

Vorys, Sater, Seymour & Pease, Robert E. Leach and Duke W. Thomas, Columbus, for intervenors.


Relator, in her memorandum, urges for our consideration six propositions of law, allegedly supportive of her demand for the issuance of a writ of mandamus or, in the alternative, a writ of prohibition, as follows:

"(1) Relator's complaint states a claim for relief over which this court has jurisdiction;

"(2) The lack of clarity and the ambiguity in the text of the proposed amendment to Section 1, Article V of the Ohio Constitution are fatally defective and preclude consideration of the text as an amendment to the Ohio Constitution;

"(3) The summaries on the initiative petition and the ballot do not constitute fair and truthful summaries and do not cure the fatal defects in the language of the proposed amendment;

"(4) The question and issues ballot containing the proposed amendment is constitutionally defective because a summary is juxtaposed with the text itself, because the summary is not a true and accurate explanation of the proposed amendment, because the summary differs from the summary on the initiative petition, and because the ballot is defective in form;

"(5) To permit the election to go forward, under existing circumstances, would deprive the electorate of the right to notice required by the well established requirements of due process of law; (and) "(6) Estoppel and laches are frivolous defenses on the facts of this cause."

These preceding arguments present three issues for determination by this court. However, an essential preface to their consideration is comprehension of the nature of the remedies sought by relator. Mandamus and prohibition are extraordinary remedies, to be issued with great caution and discretion and only when the way is clear. State, ex rel. Kriss, v. Richards (1921), 102 Ohio St. 455, 132 N.E. 23; State, ex rel. Skinner Engine Co., v. Kouri (1940), 136 Ohio St. 343, 25 N.E.2d 940. The purpose of mandamus is to compel the performance of an act which the law specially enjoins as a duty resulting from an office, trust or station. State, ex rel. Riley Constr. Co., v. East Liverpool Bd. of Edn. (1967), 10 Ohio St.2d 25, 225 N.E.2d 246. The function of prohibition is to prevent a court or officer from exercising judicial or quasi-judicial power unauthorized by law. State, ex rel. Lehmann, v. Cmich (1970), 23 Ohio St.2d 11, 260 N.E.2d 835.

Relator first assails the initiative petition, asserting in the third proposition of law 1 that the summary on the initiative petition is not a summary at all, and that, if it is a summary, it is not fair and truthful as required by R.C. 3519.01. 2 Specifically, relator contends that the summary on the initiative petition is defective in that: (1) the summary is longer by one word than the text of the proposed amendment; (2) the summary does not explain the character and effect of the proposed amendment; and (3) it does nothing to resolve the ambiguity of the proposed amendment, requiring an elector to have voted at least once "during any period of four consecutive years."

Section 1a, Article II, Ohio Constitution, states, in relevant part:

"When a petition signed by the aforesaid required number of electors, shall have been filed with the Secretary of State, and verified as herein provided, proposing an amendment to the Constitution, the full text of which shall have been set forth in such petition, the Secretary of State shall submit for the approval or rejection of the electors, the proposed amendment * * * ." (Emphasis added.)

Additionally, in State, ex rel. O'Grady, v. Brown (1976), 48 Ohio St.2d 17, 356 N.E.2d 296, this court referred to Section 1g, Article II, Ohio Constitution, wherein it provides that the Secretary of State "shall cause to be placed upon the ballots" any proposed amendments to the Constitution which are presented by the initiative petition, in refusing to prohibit the Secretary of State from placing on the ballot four initiated proposals to amend the Constitution. The court explained, at page 20, 356 N.E.2d at page 298.

"Although the ' * * * Secretary of State necessarily will act in a quasi-judicial capacity in determining the sufficiency of the petition' (State, ex rel. Patton, v. Myers (1933), 127 Ohio St. 95, 98, 186 N.E. 872), the placing of the issues on the ballots is ministerial in nature and not quasi-judicial," and concluded:

" * * * (T)he placing of the issues in question on the ballots * * * do(es) not constitute the exercise of quasi-judicial power by the Secretary of State. Therefore, there is 'no showing that the acts sought to be prohibited constitute a usurpation of quasi-judicial power' (State, ex rel. Schwartz, v. Brown, supra ((1972), 32 Ohio St.2d 1, 228 N.E.2d 819)), and prohibition does not lie."

The Ohio Constitution imposes certain ministerial duties upon the respondent with respect to the initiative petitions. Relator has failed to show, in the instant cause, that the respondent is proceeding other than in the performance of such duties, that he has abused his discretion or that the acts sought to be prohibited constitute a usurpation of quasi-judicial power. Absent this requisite demonstration, the writs of mandamus and prohibition will not lie. State, ex rel. Taylor, v. Glasser (1977), 50 Ohio St.2d 165, 364 N.E.2d 1.

Secondly, relator contends that the lack of clarity and the ambiguity in the text of the proposed amendment are fatally defective and preclude its consideration, and that neither the summary on the initiative petition nor the language on the ballot alleviates this fatal flaw. Consideration of the alleged flaws must be preceded by a showing that respondent is acting other than in the performance of his duties and, or, attempting a usurpation of quasi-judicial power. There is no allegation by relator that any of the procedural steps required of petitioners were not complied with. Furthermore, relator has cited no authority which would require the respondent to reject a petition for an amendment to the Constitution because the language was ambiguous. To the contrary, we have previously demonstrated the ministerial duty imposed upon the Secretary of State to place the proposed amendment on the ballot by Sections 1a and 1g, Article II, Ohio Constitution. 3 Nor may this court consider, as urged by relator, the constitutional validity of the proposed amendment. Pfeifer v. Graves (1913), 88 Ohio St. 473, 104 N.E. 529; Weinland v. Fulton (1918), 99 Ohio St. 10, 121 N.E. 816; State, ex rel. Greenlund, v. Fulton (1919), 99 Ohio St. 168, 124 N.E. 172; and Cincinnati v. Hillenbrand (1921), 103 Ohio St. 286, 133 N.E. 556.

Certainly, the reasoning of Judge Wilkin, in Pfeifer v. Graves, supra, has continued applicability to the resolution of the present issue and is stated, 88 Ohio at pages 487 and 488, 104 N.E. at page 533:

"There is another indisputable and imperative reason why the remedy they invoke must be denied. We can not intervene in the process of legislation and enjoin the proceedings of the legislative department of the state. That department is free to act upon its own judgment of its constitutional powers. We have not even advisory jurisdiction to render opinions upon mooted questions about constitutional limitations of the...

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