Bricker & Eckler uses Relativity to Identify Illegalities in Petition Process
In Ohio, a petitioner can initiate a statute or a constitutional amendment by collecting handwritten signatures of registered voters to place an issue on the statewide ballot.
Low barriers to place a topic before voters has made Ohio the “Wild West” of the ballot process, often attracting non-local interests attempting to game the system. Because of the timeframes drafted into Ohio’s petition process, challengers might only have a few weeks to analyze enormous amounts of evidence and prepare a legal challenge. Each year, ballot initiatives threaten millions of dollars in local operating revenue and often local businesses themselves.
In 2017, officials driving an out-of-state petition had nearly 500,000 signatures. As that number continued to climb, the petition was on its way to introduce a constitutional amendment before Ohio voters in the November 2018 election.
If passed, the amendment could shutter medical services businesses.
With many of its members at risk of significant financial loss, a medical provider association sought to contest the petition. They approached Bricker & Eckler about pressure testing this entity’s ballot initiative, requiring quick and accurate identification of a substantial amount of information.
Bring out the Fine-Tooth Comb
Dave Hasman, litigation support manager at Bricker & Eckler, and his team are no strangers to developing on the Relativity platform and quickly moved forward with creating a solution to solve this pertinent problem.
Bricker needed a way to identify, within an extremely tight timeframe, whether circulators and the petitioner engaged in illegal practices. This task would involve analyzing over 19,000 part-petitions containing over 490,000 signatures.
“Circulators often travel state to state, getting paid to collect signatures from individuals who may not be true residents. Often, there is duplication. And, typically, there are many errors,” Chris Slagle, partner and chair of the government relations group at Bricker & Eckler, explained. “Ohio requires circulation companies to register with the Secretary of State before starting to collect signatures. Failure to meet this requirement renders the petition invalid. In the past, compliance by circulation companies has been overlooked since there hasn’t been a feasible way to prove violations, especially given the tight deadlines.”
Looking for a solution to their problem, the Bricker team built Petition Analyzer, an application comprising five custom objects, each storing key information that relates to and tracks specific petition circulators and payees.
Petition Analyzer’s core function is to investigate trends and irregularities and analyze suspicious signatures. To achieve this, Bricker needed to collect and organize information from various sources—including petition information, like the signature counts, addresses, as well as various circulator and county data.
“Imagine tracking this information in a spreadsheet or some kind of database,” Dave added. “You would have data living all over the place with no single repository to store important, identifiable information. The key for us is not just having all the data in one location, but being able to validate that data. That’s where Relativity’s APIs were the most beneficial.”
“The key for us is not just having the data in one location, but being able to validate that data. That’s where Relativity’s APIs were the most beneficial.”
Click to Count
Using Relativity’s open platform, the Bricker team built in integrations with the United States Postal Service to verify addresses. They also incorporated Google Maps and Google Search APIs to validate personal and address information—all without leaving the application.
“This entire application is concentrated around anomalies, patterns, and trends,” Dave said. “Prior to Petition Analyzer, we’d have to delegate up to 20 people to fact-check addresses and dates on petitions against circulator identities, validating that addresses are real and not just a piece of land.”
With the help from Relativity developer partner NSerio, the application was armed with clicker functionality that would automatically count valid signatures. Likewise, it would validate addresses and identify warnings right out of the gate.
With a simple control and click, reviewers no longer had to count valid signatures manually. Instead, the signature count automatically incremented valid signatures, saving hundreds of human review hours.
“In 2015, our firm represented another trade association client in a similar ballot initiative project,” Hasman said. “The review process for the 2015 initiative took roughly four weeks. Comparatively, we were able to have a deep understanding of this matter’s data in just four days.”
Map it Out
To help attorneys and clients better visualize case data, the Bricker team created an election-style map with real-time, map-based information focused on Ohio’s 88 counties. In order for the petition to move forward, 302,000 signatures coming from at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties were needed. Additionally, five percent of Ohio voters by county must have participated in the previous governor’s election. Counties that did not meet the voting five percent threshold were colored red on the map. Counties that met that threshold were colored blue. The map functionality also enabled reviewers to see which counties were “flagged” for further review—pulling in additional county metrics in real-time.
“We wanted to make it as easy as possible for our attorneys to use this application and find the data they needed in a meaningful way,” Dave explained.
With this interactive map, attorneys, as well as their client, could investigate trends and irregularities, challenge suspicious signatures and build their case using accurate statistics.
“The client-facing side of this application was a game-changer for us,” Dave said. “Providing direct access to an interface tailored specifically to their needs allows our clients to have project information whenever they needed it.”
Thanks to Petition Analyzer, Bricker & Eckler was able to quickly map out the breadth, depth, and likelihood of success for several litigation theories and present those to the client in a clear, visual manner. With Relativity, the voluminous amount of evidence needed to support the claims the client chose to pursue was organized and presented to the court in an equally clear and visual manner.
Less than six weeks after the petition was filed, it was all over. The court found the client’s evidence sufficient and invalidated the petition, saving the client tens of millions of dollars in anticipated expenses to run a campaign against the petition.
Next Phase of Efforts
Bricker’s creativity with the platform has continued to distinguish the firm as a technology leader.
“We want to continue to use technology as a business proposition to our clients. Our goal is to consistently help solve problems like these, and creatively blend legal acumen with tech ingenuity,” Chris said. “The Relativity platform continues to be a versatile solution for the recurring needs for our clients.”
“We want to continue to use technology as a business proposition to our clients. Our goal is to consistently help solve problems like these, and creatively blend legal acumen with tech ingenuity. The Relativity platform continues to be a versatile solution for the recurring needs for our clients.”
CHRIS SLAGLE, Partner
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