(CLEVELAND) — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost today cautioned that his office will not tolerate harassment and intimidation in the state’s petition process.
The warning follows reports that signature gatherers for the proposed House Bill 6 referendum have encountered aggressive “petition blockers” who attempt to deter voters from signing petitions.
“Two different petitions are circulating statewide and their supporters have a right under law to collect signatures without interference,” Yost said. “My job as attorney general is to call balls and strikes like I see them, and this one is a wild pitch. It’s time to knock it off.”
Yost is urging signature gatherers to report incidents of harassment and intimidation to his office by calling 1-800-282-0515.
Under state law, the attorney general’s office has the authority to investigate criminal elections violations in the petition process and refer evidence to county prosecutors for possible charges. If a county prosecutor declines to press charges, the attorney general’s office may do so.
In one recent case, a woman hired as a petition blocker allegedly broke a man’s cell phone as he was collecting signatures outside a central Ohio library. Dublin police charged the woman with criminal damaging.
Yost also sent a letter to Ohio’s U.S. attorneys today informing them that his office is gathering evidence of possible violations. Any cases that could constitute a federal offense will be referred to their offices.
ORC 109.95 Criminal proceedings for election fraud:
Notwithstanding any provision of the Revised Code to the contrary pertaining to prosecutorial authority, the attorney general may initiate criminal proceedings for election fraud under section 3599.42 of the Revised Code which results from a violation of any provision of Title XXXV of the Revised Code, other than Chapter 3517. of the Revised Code, involving voting, an initiative or referendum petition process, or the conducting of an election, by presenting evidence of criminal violations in question to the prosecuting attorney of any county in which the violations may be prosecuted. If the prosecuting attorney does not prosecute the violations within a reasonable time or requests the attorney general to do so, the attorney general may proceed with the prosecution of the violations with all of the rights, privileges, and powers conferred by law on a prosecuting attorney, including, but not limited to, the power to appear before a grand jury and to interrogate witnesses before a grand jury.