- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The state’s elections chief on Wednesday issued new subpoenas after withdrawing old ones as he continues to investigate the signature collection and ballot petition submission of a group backing a marijuana legalization proposal.

The move by Secretary of State Jon Husted follows a federal lawsuit filed over his probe into ResponsibleOhio’s campaign.

Husted, a Republican, asked a special investigator in late July to review why significant numbers of petition signatures collected by ResponsibleOhio were invalid and some paper forms didn’t match electronic copies. If such discrepancies are a product of fraud, they are subject to criminal penalties up to a fifth-degree felony.

ResponsibleOhio’s executive director, Ian James, was subpoenaed, along with his consulting firm. The campaign calls the investigation “a witch hunt.”

A person identified as John Doe filed a lawsuit against Husted over the earlier subpoenas, saying in a complaint filed last week that they were overly broad.

Doe, a Hamilton County resident, alleges that the probe seeks from ResponsibleOhio documents containing residents’ personal information. He says that creates a “chilling effect” and violates the First Amendment and privacy rights of people who support the legalization proposal.

Doe, a pot issue supporter, asked the court to block the disclosure to the government of records that could contain his private political speech and his real identity.

Attorneys working with Husted’s special investigator withdrew the earlier subpoenas on Tuesday.

Husted spokesman Josh Eck said the subpoenas were reissued on Wednesday after being revised to calm concerns raised by Doe and others like him. Eck said the updated subpoenas allow certain personal information to be redacted if it involves people who are not employees or contractors of ResponsibleOhio.

ResponsibleOhio had praised the withdrawal of the earlier subpoenas in a Wednesday morning statement. It sent another statement Wednesday afternoon, blasting the new subpoenas.

“Chief Elections Officer Husted is channeling Joseph McCarthy, abusing his power, and waging a personal vendetta that uses taxpayer dollars to deny basic constitutional rights to Ohioans with the goal of chilling the right of free speech, association and affiliation,” James said in a statement.

Husted said it was his duty to look into potential fraud.

“By reissuing the subpoenas, we can move forward with our investigation immediately without losing time through procedural delay,” Husted said in a written statement.

A court hearing in the lawsuit was scheduled for Thursday but was canceled after Doe withdrew his request for a temporary restraining order against Husted. Doe had cited the withdrawal of the earlier subpoenas.

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