ResponsibleOhio, the organization working to pass a controversial initiative aimed at legalizing recreational marijuana in the November election, has been hit with yet another major obstacle that could potentially foil their efforts altogether in 2015.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced on Wednesday the appointment of a special investigator that has been hired to look into the group’s activities in order to determine if their signature gathering campaign was conducted under fraudulent terms. In a press release, Husted wrote that ResponsibleOhio has shown “discrepancies between the hard-copy petitions and what should have been identical electronic copies of those petitions,” potential evidence, he suggests, that the group may have been involved in underhanded election tactics.
Of course, this is a serious accusation. If found guilty of fraud, ResponsibleOhio organizers could be charged with a fifth-degree felony.
In an effort to get to the bottom of this mess, the Secretary of State’s office plans to subpoena The Strategy Network, the signature collecting company ResponsibleOhio executive director Ian James hired to manage this phase of the initiative. The overall goal of the investigation is to review the company’s records in order to determine if the discrepancies present a definitive case of fraud.
“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.”
However, ResponsibleOhio claims the inconsistencies now under Husted’s microscope are ones that they brought to his attention. Larry James, legal counsel for the organization, said that the state is now “trying to punish us for pointing them out publicly,” rather than “working with us and addressing the problems within his office and at the County Board of Elections.”
“He even deputized a former prosecutor to investigate us,” said James, “then bragged about his past success gaining convictions — all in a further attempt to frighten, harass and silence us.”
Husted first went after ResponsibleOhio weeks ago after announcing that the organization had come up 30,000 signatures short of earning a spot on the ballot. Although the group submitted around 695,000 signatures, Husted maintained that only 276,000 of those could be certified. To be fair, ResponsibleOhio was given another 10 days to collect the missing signatures – a timeline that ends Thursday at midnight.
Although the odds seem stacked against ResponsibleOhio, organizers told reporters on Thursday evening that they were prepared to submit “tens of thousands” of signatures before the midnight deadline and that they have “zero doubt” that they will get enough signatures certified to “absolutely, positively be on the November ballot.”
Do you think cannabis legalization will make it on the ballot in Ohio? Tell us in the comments.