Ohio Attorney General issues warning against tampering with election

Yost issued a video press release on Tuesday addressing a host of election concerns, including ballot harvesting, voter intimidation, and robocalls distributing misinformation.
Published: Oct. 13, 2020 at 4:43 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WTVG) - Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is reassuring voters concerned about election tampering this November. Yost issued a video press release on Tuesday addressing a host of election concerns, including ballot harvesting, voter intimidation, and robocalls distributing misinformation. In the video, the Attorney General warned anyone looking to engage in these activities that they violate felony statutes and would result in prosecution.

Ballot Harvesting

In discussing concerns over ballot harvesting -- where groups or individuals collect ballots from voters to deliver to the board of elections -- Yost reminded voters that it is a fourth-degree felony in Ohio to be in possession of another person’s absentee ballot. According to the Ohio Revised Code, only close family members are allowed to deliver a ballot on behalf of a voter (including aunts, uncles, grandparents, and immediate family).

The concern over ballot harvesting in Ohio came as a result of a Facebook exchange between congressional candidate Kate Schroder and a constituent. According to Yost, the constituent stated that ballots could be dropped off at both the board of elections or the local NAACP who would then deliver those ballots to the board of elections. Yost clarified that no laws were violated in that case and Schroder’s staff corrected the error.

Voter Intimidation

Another major concern for voters this November is possible voter intimidation, as President Donald J. Trump has repeatedly called on his supporters to act as poll watchers to ensure his opponents don’t attempt to steal the election. The president made a similar call to action during his campaign stop at Toledo Express Airport in September, leading many to believe supporters of the president might take up positions outside polling locations in an attempt to dissuade Democratic voters.

Voter intimidation, reminded the Attorney General, is a fifth-degree felony in Ohio, and while there are those who may engage in poll watching, he urged that those actions remain in line with Ohio law. Poll watchers are not allowed inside polling locations, except in specific, supervised conditions, and no one is allowed to conduct campaign activities within 100 feet of a polling location.

“Hands off the polling places,” warned Yost. “Hands off the vote.”

Misinformation in Robocalls

Finally, Yost addressed a recent series of complaints regarding robocalls that seemed to be directed at minority areas of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. According to Yost, the calls warned voters that they should be wary of requesting an absentee ballot because bill collectors would mine that information and come after them.

Following an investigation, the calls were traced to a number belonging to Jack Burkman and were financed by Burkman and Jacob Wohl, two well-known right-wing provocateurs. The two were arraigned on felony charges related to a similar robocalling scheme in Michigan last week, however, it is unclear if it is the same robocall as the one which also affected Ohio voters. AG Yost said that his office is working to confirm the involvement of the two men.

According to Yost, there were more than 67,000 calls made as part of the campaign, 3,449 of which were answered in Ohio. Secretary of State Frank LaRose has also received complaints about the campaign and has referred the case to the FBI for review as a potential violation of the Voting Rights Act. For his part, Yost has sent the information provided to his office to Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley who will determine whether there were any criminal violations under Ohio law. The Attorney General’s office is not a primary prosecutor in local matters and is limited to assisting in cases where they are invited in by local prosecutors

A Secure Ohio Election

The attorney general concluded the video by reassuring voters that Ohio’s voting system is secure and that every precinct in every county is supervised by a bipartisan group. He also reiterated that Ohio has tough criminal penalties in place for those who “skate the ragged edge.” As he put it, “don’t try this stuff in Ohio because there will be a price to pay.”

“Let’s have a clean election, a fair election, make sure every vote is counted, and that means you have to cast your ballot,” concluded Yost. “So let’s vote, Ohio.”

Early voting is currently underway in Ohio. For more information on casting your ballot, including how to request and return absentee ballots, click here.

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