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Ohio elections chief flags voter forms from marijuana group

COLUMBUS (AP) — Voter registrations collected by a marijuana legalization campaign are to be closely scrutinized for potential fraud under orders the state’s elections chief delivered Wednesday.

Secretary of State Jon Husted advised the state’s 88 county election boards to carefully analyze new voter registrations submitted by The Strategy Network, the organization coordinating a signature drive for ResponsibleOhio’s marijuana legalization campaign.

Husted’s advisory said the heightened caution related to reports from some election boards that submissions by the group contained higher error rates and apparent fraudulent registration attempts. He cited non-existent addresses, illegible signatures, duplicate applications from the same address and underage registrants.

“Disregard for Ohio’s laws and Ohio’s citizens will not be tolerated,” Husted said in a release. “Sloppiness and fraud are unwelcome in our state’s elections system.”

ResponsibleOhio director Ian James said the group has followed the law.

“We met with the secretary of state’s office some weeks ago and went over the process of voter registration, what we were doing, the procedures we were using, and there was no indication of any problems whatsoever,” James said. “So we’re somewhat flummoxed today by this announcement of some issue, when in fact we were fully compliant with Ohio election laws on voter registration.”

Husted, a Republican, said the warning was part of his responsibility in assuring fair and safe elections.

ResponsibleOhio is gathering the roughly 306,000 signatures required to qualify a proposed constitutional amendment for the fall ballot. It says it has more than 550,000 signatures collected.

Its proposal would legalize medical and recreational marijuana and set up a statewide network of growing locations, some of which have already been bought by investors.

State lawmakers are rushing to place on the ballot an amendment that would prohibit people or groups from creating monopolies or advancing their economic special interests in the Ohio Constitution, an effort aimed to blocking the marijuana proposal. If the two are deemed to be in direct conflict, the one with more votes would prevail.

Separately Wednesday, state Attorney General Mike DeWine certified a second legalization effort by Ohioans to End Prohibition. His office said the petition submitted for the group’s Cannabis Control Amendment had the necessary 1,000 valid signatures and had created a “fair and truthful” summary.

The group, which aims to offer its amendment in 2016, heads next to the Ohio Ballot Board, chaired by Husted.