Pastors claim civil rights violation on behalf of a candidate being investigated for a crime

Ohio Statehouse News

COLUMBUS (WDTN) – Earlier this year, someone challenged voter registration of the Republican candidate for the 20th District of the House of Representatives, Bobby Mitchell.

It was alleged that Mitchell’s permanent address was not the same as the one he was registered to vote from.

A hearing was held on this matter, testimony was provided, signed affidavits were submitted, and a host of evidence was gathered to prepare.

Ultimately, the decision by the four-person Franklin Board of Elections was split along party lines 2-2 and a final vote to break the tie was made by the Secretary of State Jon Husted, presumably after he reviewed the same evidence. Husted voted in favor of the Republican candidate.

If the challenger wanted to continue to fight the ruling, the next step would have been to appeal the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court. That did not happen, and the reason given to me by those involved was because a bench full of Republicans was not likely to overturn the Republican-favored ruling, so they accepted it.

But something else happened after the hearing that resulted from it.

The Director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, Ed Leonard, asked the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office to investigate a couple of cases of voter fraud.

According to Leonard, statements made by Mitchell and his wife through testimony and affidavits they supplied, as well as affidavits from his neighbors, led the director to feel that laws may have been broken.

Voter fraud is a fifth degree felony. The specific instances of fraud Leonard was concerned about occurred in 2016 for Mitchell and 2018 for his wife, and are related to which precincts they voted in for those elections.

Leonard passed on the information of a possible violation of the law to law enforcement, and left it in their hands.

Mitchell says he should not have done that. Mitchell and his supporters call it unauthorized because Leonard didn’t first get permission from the board to report a possible crime.

According to members of the Board of Elections I spoke with on both sides of the aisle, there is no written policy or procedure for this sort of thing. Although, the Republicans claim that it is rare if not unprecedented that such a move, to go directly to law enforcement, was made.

Because the matter was referred to the Sheriff’s Office, pastors friendly to Mitchell are upset.

Some of them are close personal friends with Mitchell and vouch for his character.

Mitchell is a pastor and owns a used car dealership. He and his wife, who is retired, are both veterans of the Air Force and own what they call a beautiful vacation home in Fairfield County just across the border of Franklin County.

The Mitchell’s are also black.

As such the clergy, again some of which are close personal friends with Mitchell, are claiming the Sheriff’s Office and Leonard are using Jim Crow tactics against the candidate and violating his civil rights.

According to the group of clergy, Mitchell has the right to vote and the right to represent the district; and they are 100% correct.

As a result of the ruling at the hearing earlier this year, none of that is in question; and none of that has anything to do with the voter fraud charges according to Leonard.

“They’ll still be eligible to vote, he is still eligible to represent if he’s so elected; it is simply looking at these facts that raise a question of whether they should have voted the way they did in 2016 and 2018,” said Leonard. “It’s the facts that came from his own testimony, from his own social media posts, from his wife’s affidavit, from his neighbors affidavits, it’s information that’s publicly available, and it came to light and it requires additional investigation.”

He doesn’t know for sure if Mitchell or his wife broke the law, and we will never know without an investigation according to Leonard.

As for the clergy’s claim that what they call tactics, Pastor John Coats with the local chapter of the NAACP says, that someone being under investigation for a potential crime doesn’t even begin to resemble Jim Crow Laws.

The group of clergy disagrees. They sent a letter to the Justice Department making their allegations against the Sheriff’s Office and Leonard a couple of weeks ago.

Initially, the DOJ had not received the letter when we reached out to them and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office had not been contacted by the DOJ on this matter.

Monday, Mitchell’s supporters emailed the letter to the DOJ and it can now be said they are officially aware of the accusations. That is where the comment from the DOJ ends.

As for the claims of intimidation and harassment, the Mitchell’s tell me they have not yet been approached or contacted by anyone with the Sheriff’s Office seeking information.

Leonard says no one has contacted the couple from his office either and claims there has been no harassment.

The Mitchell’s say having the threat of an investigation looming over both their heads is stressful and have suffered as a result. The Mitchell’s say they have also decided to put an attorney on retainer, spending $2,500 to do so, because they’re being investigated.

As the news conference they called Monday was wrapping up, Mitchell’s wife expressed a lack of patience in waiting for this election to be over with in eight days.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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