DARKE COUNTY — Accusations continue to fly in the battle between Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and the marijuana advocacy group ResponsibleOhio.
On Thursday, the group announced it had delivered 95,572 supplemental signatures to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office to have its “Marijuana Legalization Amendment” placed on the November 2015 ballot.
The amendment would legalize personal production and usage of marijuana up to certain amounts for individuals 21 years of age and older in the state. It would also authorize the construction and operation of 10 marijuana-growing farms and licensed distribution shops in Ohio.
ResponsibleOhio also reported turning in 27,585 new voter registrations.
The supplemental signatures were needed after Secretary Husted’s July 20 announcement that ResponsibleOhio had fallen short of its goal by nearly 30,000 valid signatures. The group was given an additional 10 days to make up the shortfall.
Further, on Wednesday, Husted named a special investigator, former Allen County prosecutor David Bowers, to review discrepancies in the petitions submitted by the group.
Husted also subpoenaed ResponsibleOhio Executive Director Ian James and any relevant records in the possession of ResponsibleOhio and The Strategy Network, the organization managing the petition drive.
Husted had previously issued a warning to the two entities when county election boards reported the The Strategy Network was submitting what were characterized as “an alarming number” of fraudulent voter registration forms.
“As with every possible case of election fraud, it is my responsibility to investigate and hold accountable anyone who may have cheapened the voice of all Ohioans by cheating the system,” said Husted. “I have long stated that voter fraud is rare, but it happens; and when it does, we will call out the guilty parties and hold them accountable.”
In response, ResponsibleOhio Legal Counsel Larry James issued the following statement:
“No good deed goes unpunished,” he said. “We found discrepancies between the number of part petitions we turned in and the number the county boards of elections reported that we turned in. We brought these very discrepancies to Secretary Husted, and now he’s trying to punish us for pointing them out publicly. In doing so, we were merely exercising our first amendment right to raise legitimate challenges and concerns.”
ResponsibleOhio Legal Counsel and Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andy Douglas accused Husted of attempting to “silence” the organization.
“Instead of working with us and addressing the problems within his office and at the county boards of election[s], Secretary Husted has slapped us with a subpoena meant to silence us and chill any future opposition,” said Douglas. “He even deputized a former prosecutor to investigate us, then bragged about his past success gaining convictions, all in a further attempt to frighten, harass and silence us.”
ResponsibleOhio said it plans to pursue legal challenges to protest the signatures it claims were not counted as well as signatures that it says were improperly invalidated by the Secretary of State’s Office during the initial petition filing.
Jennifer Redman, internal director of communications for ResponsibleOhio, said the group’s legal challenge is still being formulated.
“We are still developing our complaint and the timeline for our challenge. Our final timeline is not yet set” she said. “Our ultimate goal, however, remains that we will make sure that the [estimated] 35,001 signatures that were incorrectly invalidated are counted, and the part petitions that were filed are correctly processed.”
“Due to the looming shadow of litigation, we will not be sharing any specific evidence until after we have filed. All of our information and any evidence we have to support our claim will be in the filed complaint,” she added.
Erik Martin may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 937-569-4314.