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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
August 11, 2006

Board could cancel rights referendum next week

Cincinnati--An effort to stop a referendum on the city�s new LGBT equal rights ordinance will get its first hearing next week.

After the city council passed the measure in March, opponents presented petitions to force a November vote on it.

Equal Rights Not Special Rights turned in over 14,000 signatures in April and 7,656 were valid, the Hamilton County Board of Elections announced on June 20.

This is only two more than the minimum number needed.

However, there are hundreds more that should be tossed out because someone changed the printed name or address later, according to a protest filed on behalf of Citizens to Restore Fairness.

CRF is the group that successfully campaigned two years ago to repeal the anti-gay Article 12 of the city charter. This allowed council to pass the ordinance, which outlaws job, housing and public accommodation discrimination by sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Board of Elections� June signature examination only matched them to voter registration cards to make sure the signer is a voter.

They will hear a protest by CRF attorney Jennifer Branch on Thursday, August 17. She says that 879 more signatures must be invalidated because ERNSR�s paid signature gatherers did not follow the law when collecting them, or invalidated their own forms by writing over the signer�s entry.

On many of the challenged signatures, a different address has been written above the one the voter wrote. Some of the petition forms are improperly completed.

If the elections board agrees with Branch, they will end the referendum attempt. ERNSR will then ask a Hamilton County court to reinstate the signatures.

Additionally, ERNSR says in media reports that they will ask the court to reinstate other signatures that the board has already found invalid.

If the board rules against CRF�s protest, they will also ask a Hamilton County court to reverse the decision.

A final decision must be made by August 24, which is 75 days before the November 7 election.

Board director John Williams said they might be able to stretch that to the first week of September when absentee ballots are printed, if necessary.

Williams said that the board, because of its role in the process, does not consider the merit of the referendum, but must �give the benefit of the doubt to signers� of all petitions.

In the event of a tie among board members, the tie-breaking vote will be cast by Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who is also the Republican candidate for governor and an anti-gay activist.

Blackwell is closely allied with Citizens for Community Values president Phil Burress of suburban Sharonville, who also directs ERNSR. He campaigned to pass Burress� 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and legal recognition of any unmarried Ohio couple.

During his gubernatorial campaign, Blackwell has said gays and lesbians are like arsonists and kleptomaniacs. In 2004, he said that barnyard animals know more than gay people.

CRF chair Gary Wright says his group is assuming the measure will be on the ballot and has begun campaigning and canvassing neighborhoods to win the votes needed to keep the ordinance.

If the measure is on the ballot November 7, voters will be asked to approve the ordinance by voting �yes,� or jettison it by voting �no.�

A dozen other Ohio cities have similar ordinances although only one, Toledo�s, covers transgender people.

Related stories:

July 28, 2006:� Cincinnati rights foes may not have enough signatures

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