The Delaware County Board of Elections plans to investigate irregularities related to a statewide referendum to legalize the use of marijuana.
The county has received dozens of allegedly fraudulent voter registrations and petition signatures tied to the ballot initiative and officials want to talk to employers and the owner of the Strategy Network, the company charged with collecting enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot.
A preliminary investigation into a small sample of some of the suspicious petition signatures on the marijuana ballot initiative by retired Gen. Sam Kindred, a consultant with the board of elections, found that several people denied signing the petition. Others were already registered to vote but someone filled out and submitted another registration form for them, often with incorrect information.
State law requires the board to enter that information into its database, despite questions about its veracity.
“We are going to have legitimate voters in Delaware County that are going to be affected,” said board member Steve Cuckler.
The new registrations could lead to some voters being forced to cast provisional ballots.
Chris Betts, an assistant prosecuting attorney, said the allegedly fraudulent registrations could rise above the level of election falsification, which is a fifth-degree felony.
“It seems to me you’ve got identity theft situations going on here,” he said.
The group that collected signatures for the ballot initiative has drawn the attention of county election officials in the past.
“There’s been a history in Delaware County with this group,” said Cuckler.
Three former employees of the Strategy Network were recently sentenced for submitting false signatures on a petition to place a measure on last November’s ballot that would have allowed a Polaris area Kroger to sell liquor on Sundays.
Felicia Dawson, Shampayne Thompson and Tiffany Gaston were originally charged with forgery and election falsification in Delaware County Common Pleas Court.
All three have since pleaded guilty to one count of forgery, a fifth-degree felony that carries a maximum sentence of 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Dawson was sentenced to two years of probation. Thompson received a sentence of 10 days in jail, two years of probation and a $250 fine. Gaston was sentenced this week to 18 months of probation.
Delaware County is not the only place where the Strategy Group is suspected of submitting fraudulent voter registrations. In June, Secretary of State Jon Husted sent out an advisory to all 88 county boards of elections, urging officials to closely review the registrations turned in by the group.
ResponsibleOhio’s proposed constitutional amendment would limit growing to 10 regulated sites, including a Delaware County location, controlled by the wealthy interests behind the ballot measure. A seven-member “Marijuana Control Commission” would create and enforce regulations on the industry. Each level of the supply chain – from grower to retailer – would face a 15 percent tax, and most of that revenue would be distributed to local governments.
Dustin Ensinger can be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @EnsingerDG.