COLUMBUS — Consumer advocates have asked Franklin County election officials to investigate whether people circulating petitions to get a proposed payday loan issue on the ballot deceived voters to secure signatures.
Friday’s action by the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, which opposes the issue, raised the stakes in an increasingly tense battle.
If it qualifies for the November ballot, the issue would ask voters to repeal key provisions of Ohio’s tough new payday lending law. The law limits annualized interest to 28 percent, down from a current rate equivalent to 391 percent, and limits consumers to four loans a year.
Accounts have cropped up of people who are circulating petitions telling voters the issue would lower interest rates on payday loans when the opposite is true, the group said.
Backers of the repeal say anyone identified as misleading voters will be disciplined.
Kim Norris, a spokeswoman for proponent group Ohioans for Financial Freedom, said two circulators caught on tape last week in a public radio report were fired. Other instances identified by opponents have not all proven accurate, she said.
“What they want is for voters not to get a chance to vote on this in November,” she said.
COHHIO is not the only group lining up against the measure, however. State Rep. Matt Lundy, an Elyria Democrat and champion of the bill payday lenders seek to overturn, held a news conference Friday drawing attention to cases of circulator deception.
He called on those underwriting the fall ballot issue to mete out discipline in additional cases.
“Several circulators are being intentionally disingenuous as they ask for support for this issue,” he said. “People have caught these circulators lying about how their initiative would affect Ohioans struggling to make ends meet, and yet no discipline has been rendered. If payday lenders are going to challenge a piece of legislation, they can at least urge honesty in making their case.”
The homelessness coalition also was joined in its concern by Columbus city councilwoman Charleta Tavares, a Democrat, and former state Rep. E.J. Thomas, a Republican.
Also on Friday, COHHIO executive director Bill Faith issued a statement in support of two members of the state Ballot Board, both Republicans, who have called for the panel to be reconvened on an emergency basis to reconsider the wording of the issue voters will see in the fall.
The panel voted unanimously on the wording last week.
Faith said the ballot language will not contain any reference to rates currently charged by payday lenders that amount to 391 percent interest when spread over a year.
However, a spokesman for Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner said the window for changing the wording has closed.
Ohioans for Financial Freedom is running a pair of television ads statewide encouraging voters to sign its petitions, which must be submitted to the state by Aug. 31.