COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted on Wednesday advised election officials to "carefully analyze" new voter registrations being submitted by The Strategy Network, which is collecting signatures for pro-marijuana legalization group ResponsibleOhio.
County boards of elections have reported an increase in errors and registrations that appear to be fraudulent turned in by the group, Husted said.
"As the state’s chief elections officer, I have a duty to work with our local boards of elections to ensure fairness at the ballot box and a primary component of that responsibility is to maintain clean voter rolls and establish safeguards against fraud," Husted said in a news release. "ResponsibleOhio’s suspicious voter registration efforts seem to be simply another step in a growing trend of irresponsible behavior."
According to Husted’s office, counties have reported:
- Registrants who report non-existent addresses;
- Signatures that are illegible or do not match the signature on file for the applicant in the voter’s existing registration record;
- Multiple applications submitted on the same day for a single applicant at different addresses;
- Applicants who are underage and will not turn 18 before the next general election; and
- Multiple registration forms that appear to be completed in the same handwriting.
ResponsibleOhio announced last week it had collected more than 550,000 signatures and about 10 percent of those also completed new voter registration forms. ResponsibleOhio Executive Director Ian James also owns The Strategy Network, a well-known Columbus consulting firm that specializes in collecting signatures for ballot issue campaigns.
James said Husted’s letter was the first the campaign had heard of problems with its voter registrations. James said petition circulators follow the law for voter registrations, which allow them to complete portions of the registration form.
"[My company] has collected 5.6 million signatures and we’re registering tens of thousands of people to vote. We take the responsibility of compliance with Ohio election law very seriously," James said.
James said Husted’s warning is the latest move by elected politicians to thwart ResponsibleOhio’s effort. State lawmakers are considering their own constitutional amendment targeted at ResponsibleOhio that would nullify amendments that benefit an economic interest .
"There is somewhat of a concern that we’re going to qualify for the ballot, that voters are going to be able to vote for the issue that they overwhelmingly support, that voters are going to legalize marijuana in Ohio," James said. "And there are some who don’t want to have that happen and are pulling all the stops to try to stop voters from having their say on this matter."
ResponsibleOhio wants to legalize marijuana for personal and recreational use for adults over age 21 and limit commercial growing to 10 sites promised to campaign investors. The group must collect more than 305,591 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters by July 1 to qualify for the November ballot.
Signatures are sent to county boards of election for verification, and groups often register signers to vote in Ohio in hopes of increasing validity.
In at least two counties, Husted wrote in a letter to James, registrations were turned in for 16-year-old applicants. One of those applicants told the county elections board director he was advised to complete the form even after explaining he was not old enough to vote.
Husted spokesman Joshua Eck said the office didn’t have a total number of irregularities but boards in Cuyahoga County and 12 others have reported suspicious registrations: Butler, Clermont, Delaware, Erie, Fairfield, Franklin, Hamilton, Meigs, Paulding, Ross and Scioto counties.
Earlier this year, Husted joined fellow Republican statewide elected officials in denouncing the amendment. At that time, Husted said it was offensive to ask Ohioans to give a constitutional monopoly to the marijuana industry and he would "vigorously" ask voters to defeat it.