The attorney general and his Democratic opponent spar over voter law

By David Skolnick


David Pepper, a Democrat running for attorney general, is criticizing Mike DeWine, the Republican incumbent, for “repeatedly and blindly [defending] anti-democratic legislation and voter suppression schemes.”

Pepper said DeWine has spent much of his term “defending the suppression of Ohioans’ basic voting rights,” and “he has lost every major” election-law case. That DeWine continued to defend those cases “created confusion amid elections, and his endless appeals have wasted taxpayer dollars,” Pepper said.

DeWine said Pepper “doesn’t understand the job of the attorney general. We are the lawyer of the state and defend legislation passed by the General Assembly.”

DeWine defended laws passed by the state Legislature to reduce early-voting hours for some voters in the final three days before the 2012 presidential election, disqualify voters who cast ballots in the correct polling location but the wrong precinct even when it was caused by poll-worker error, and to require additional requirements for third-party candidates to qualify for the ballot. DeWine lost the first two cases, and a federal judge recently suspended the latter law with the issue heading to a federal court of appeals.

DeWine said he defended the cases because the state Legislature voted for them after the Ohio Legislative Services Commission determined they were constitutional.

“The attorney general’s job is not to blindly defend unconstitutional laws,” Pepper said. “If you feel something is unconstitutional, you have the obligation to say something. Good counsel is clearly badly needed.”

“I’m not sure what he thinks the attorney general’s proper role is,” DeWine responded. “My job is to defend the law and the state. Mr. Pepper would leave no lawyer to defend the state if he doesn’t like the law. That’s an absurd position. It shows his lack of courtroom knowledge [and of], state government, the law and what the attorney general does. I feel sorry for him.”

Pepper said DeWine should get more involved in helping the Legislature when it is crafting laws that are unconstitutional.

Pepper pointed out that DeWine appealed a decision on disqualifying voters for being at the right polling location but wrong precinct even after Secretary of State Jon Husted, who is a Republican like the attorney general, didn’t join the appeal.

“For the life of me, I can’t understand why he would do that,” Pepper said. “Every voter in the state should be offended by that.”

“I didn’t pass the law, and I didn’t write it, but I defend it,” DeWine said. “I was doing what I’m supposed to do.”

If elected, Pepper said he would stop DeWine’s “policy of blindly defending unconstitutional voter suppression and ballot access schemes,” create a voting rights unit, advocated directly to the Legislature on election laws, promote voter awareness, and fight for redistricting reform and transparency.

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