Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Who do you believe at the Board of Elections?

In over 20 years of filing various petitions and forms at the Board of Elections, I've never - ever! - had them miscount the number of signatures submitted or lose a page. And, as a Republican, the person accepting my documents was usually a Democrat!

Why is this important for you to know? Because the latest fiasco with our Lucas County Republican Party Chairman is one in which he claims Board of Election staffers did exactly that.

A person who wants to run for office must sign a declaration of candidacy on the filing petition. This is the form that is circulated amongst voters, and those who wish you to be on the ballot will sign that form. Because of the number of signatures required to run for various offices, it is most often that you need multiple petitions. You can copy the original petition, meaning that it is a copy of your signature, but at least one of the forms filed at the BOE must contain an original signature.

This is state law and failure to do this will result in what is known as a 'fatal flaw' - something that is beyond the subjectivity of the BOE board members to decide.

According to the coverage of yesterday's BOE board meeting, this is exactly what happened with Constantine Stamos who wanted to run against incumbent Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken.

But that's not the end of the disaster that has become the reign of Jon Stainbrook. Failing to properly file his candidate's petitions (why Stamos didn't file them himself is beyond me - I always filed my own), the blame-game began.

According to the local daily,

Meghan Gallagher, chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party's Central Committee, told the board Monday she turned in nine petition sheets, known as part-petitions, which included one with Mr. Stamos' original signature.

She said the petition was picked up by a staffer, Andrea Taliga, with a group of other petitions and then removed from sight, suggesting to her the page with the original signature was lost in the process.

Board of elections staffer Lori Jacek said Ms. Gallagher turned in eight sheets and that she returned a receipt with that number to Ms. Gallagher's associate, Kelly Bensman. The receipt also shows an estimate of 80 signatures, which is the number of signatures on the eight part-petitions that Ms. Taliga and Ms. Jacek say were filed.

The board was not able to get to the bottom of the she said-she said dispute and split 2-2 on a motion not to certify Mr. Stamos. Voting against certification were Democrats Ron Rothenbuhler and James Ruvolo. Voting for certification were Republicans Jon Stainbrook and Tony DeGidio.

Mr. Stainbrook attributed the missing Stamos signature sheet to staff error, and said the candidate should not be penalized for a board employee's mistake. He said Ms. Gallagher has a history of handling candidate petitions flawlessly. Mr. DeGidio said Ms. Gallagher's version should be accepted because Ms. Bensman and Mr. Stamos corroborated her account.

"It's very suspect that it just happens to be in the race for county commissioner," Mr. Stainbrook said.

Mr. Stainbrook further noted the debate over Mr. Stamos' petitions followed a board vote to certify a Democratic candidate for Lucas County Democratic Party Central Committee whose petition was not time-stamped because the staff inadvertently set it aside and did not open it until the day after the deadline. Mr. Stainbrook cited the instance as an example of how the board's mishandling of a petition should not be blamed on the candidate.

But Mr. Ruvolo and Mr. Rothenbuhler did not concede that the staff had erred, and noted Ms. Gallagher had not made a photocopy of the Stamos petitions before she turned them in. "I can't imagine anybody not taking copies of their petitions. I really find that hard to believe," Mr. Rothenbuhler said. "That's so standard a thing to do."

First of all, what is Megan Gallagher doing turning in petitions when she is employed by the BOE???? That is a clear violation and only her time sheet will show if she had taken a day off to do so.

But let's look at some of the details: Gallagher says she turned in an original. Kelly Bensman (also a Stainbrook crony) and the candidate say Gallagher turned in an original. But the candidate wasn't even there, so how would he know?!?

And if Bensman knew there were nine forms and she only got a receipt for eight, why didn't she question it at the time?!? That would have been the logical - and competent - thing to do.

Perhaps the description of a she-said/she-said dispute is correct. But if so, it boils down to whom you believe: Bensman and Gallagher or two long-time BOE staffers who have a reputation of handling such forms accurately and correctly for years?

For me, I'll believe the BOE staffers. As I said originally, in over 20 years of filing documents at the BOE, I've never had them lose one or miscount what I've submitted. But then, I also made copies of everything I submitted and made sure my receipts matched my filings - a fundamental check and balance that seems to be beyond the current leadership of the Lucas County Republican Party.


Stainbrook gives an example in the quoted article of a form not being file-stamped by the staff because the envelope in which it was received was set aside and not processed timely. This is a much different situation and not at all applicable to failing to file an original signature. Clearly, in the example Stainbrook gave, the petition had been received timely, despite the failure of the staff to time-stamp the enclosed document. That is not a 'fatal flaw,' as election law/court rulings have termed such incidences, and the board has discretion on making a decision.

Lastly, and this is an extremely important point to remember: the Republican members of the board of the BOE are not there to 'fight' for Republicans. That is the role of the party representative when presenting details to the board members for their decisions. The four board members, in their role of being board members, are there to uphold Ohio election law and ensure that all things are done accurately, fairly and according to law.

For the Republicans to vote in favor of a Republican despite his failure to submit an original signature, means that they are voting against the legal requirement that they enforced and supported for all other candidates. Rather than make excuses for why Stamos should be on the ballot, Stainbrook should be taking Gallagher and Bensman to task for not filing the original - or, if he believed they did as they said, for not ensuring that the receipt was accurate. If, as Stainbrook says, he 'expected' such 'suspect actions,' then he has no one to blame but Gallagher and Bensman (who didn't object when the receipt showed eight petitions - or 80 signatures) - and himself.

1 comment:

Brad Reynolds said...

I went to the board of elections to view a fight, but a hockey game broke out.

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