Yost addresses voting issues

Published 12:51 am Saturday, October 17, 2020

Advises Ohioans not to engage in illegal activities

On Wednesday, Ohio Attorney General David Yost released a video addressing concerns about early voting in the state and advised people to not “skate the ragged edge” when it comes to behavior against voting that can lead to felony charges.

Among the issues he addressed was voter intimidation by people outside polling places, ballot harvesting and a series of robocalls meant to discourage voting by minorities.

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“Let’s have a clean election, fair election. Every vote is counted. That means you have to cast your ballot. Let’s vote Ohio,” Yost said.

Early voting began on Oct. 6. People can vote by mail or ballots can be dropped off at the Lawrence County Board of Election until 2 p.m. on Nov. 2.

Polling places open for voting on Nov. 3.

The first issue Yost addressed was allegations of “ballot harvesting” that first came up in September during a congressional candidate’s Facebook forum. Ballot harvesting, which is not a legal term, is when ballots are collected by someone and the submits them.

The issue came up during a Facebook Live video by Kate Schroder, the Democratic candidate who is running against incumbent, Republican Congressman Steve Chabot for Ohio’s 1st Congressional District, which includes Warren and Hamilton counties.

During the video, Keizayla Fambro, executive director of political consulting firm Black Fork Strategies and Hamilton County Democratic Executive Committee member, incorrectly explained that if voters didn’t feel safe dropping off a ballot in-person or into a ballot drop-off box, there were organizations that would drop off the ballots for them.

“Of course, this is incorrect,” Yost said. Under Ohio Revised Code R.C. § 3509.05, only a family member can of an absentee voter can deliver a ballot. “In fact, if anyone did this, they would be committing a felony of the fourth degree.”

That led to the comment being corrected and the video was pulled. Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Timken filed the complaint with Yost’s office.

Yost said they talked to several people involved in the video and that Fambro, who works in several states, including some where ballot harvesting is legal.

He said after his office investigated, they did not find a prosecutable offense and that the video was pulled a month before any ballots had been sent out by the State of Ohio so it was not possible to commit a crime.

Yost explained that the person who does drop off a ballot for another person has to be related by blood, marriage or adoption and not just “the brotherhood or sisterhood of human kind.”

Yost said the reason he brought up the issue was to warn people that ballot harvesting is not legal in Ohio and possessing someone else’s ballot, unless you are a relative, “is a felony and you can be prosecuted for it.”

Yost next brought up the issue of voter intimidation, which is a fifth-degree felony in Ohio to “hinder an elector from voting or attempting to vote.”

“I raise this because there has been discussion of observing polls,” he said. “It is important that the conduct surrounding this complies with Ohio law.”

He said that observers are not allowed in polling places, except under very specific, limited and supervised circumstances that are set out under the Ohio Revised Code.

That means someone can’t just show up at a polling place and ask to watch people vote or observe election officials, they are appointed a political party, a group of candidates or a ballot issue committee. And they have to file to be an observer at least 20 days before the election.

A directive from the Ohio Secretary of State says that observers must be registered to vote in Ohio and have to be appointed.

The observers have to take an oath before being allowed to observe, they are not allowed to handle any election materials, interfere with election officials, cannot take pictures or videos, talk on their phones, engage in campaigning, hinder voters going to or coming out of the voting area or have a firearm among other rules.

“Observers are not allowed inside polling stations except up for those carefully delineated circumstances,” Yost said.

He said that 100 feet outside the entrance to a polling place is considered a public space, and is relatively unregulated. He added that it is possible for people to take what would otherwise be lawful actions that could be deemed hindering a voter.

“I strongly encourage everyone to act in a way that is conspicuously and unquestionably is intimidation free and is hindrance free,” Yost said. “I would say look in your heart, if you are thinking you are hoping ‘those people’ don’t vote, whether we are talking about liberals you are hoping that the ‘Trumpers’ won’t vote or we are talking about people on the Republican side of the aisle that are hoping that those ‘crazy rioters’ don’t show up, it is not your job to keep people from voting or to hinder them from voting or to make them think twice about voting.”

He said that in Ohio, depending on the facts and the ability to prove the case, it can be a fifth-degree felony.

“Err on the side of caution. Hands off the polling places, hands off the vote,” Yost said.

Next Yost spoke about telephone robocalls that targeted minority areas in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania that incorrectly advised them they should be careful asking for an absentee ballot “because bill collectors were going to mine that information and come after them,” Yost said.

67,396 were made and 3,049 were answered by a person or answering machine in Ohio.

Complaints were made to the Ohio secretary of state and the case was referred to the FBI as a potential violation of the voting rights act. Yost sent information to the Cuyahoga County prosecutor to review for possible violations of Ohio law.

Two conservative activists, Jack Burkman, 54, of Arlington, Virginia, and Jacob Wohl, 22, of Los Angeles, are facing charges in Michigan for similar calls.

Burkman and Wohl have pleaded not guilty to conspiring to intimidate voters and using a computer to commit crimes. On Oct. 8, their bond was set at $100,000.

Michigan Assistant Attorney General Richard Cunningham asked for a $1 million bond, saying it would protect the public from efforts to discourage voting, “one of the fundamental rights we have.”

“Ohio has an excellent system, it is easy to vote in Ohio, it is a secure and well-supervised system,” Yost said, adding there are two Republicans and two Democrats in every precinct in every county that are supervising how the election happens.

The full video is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odJuV7mEGDU&feature=youtu.be