By Stephanie Warsmith
Beacon Journal staff writer
After an unusual meeting that included Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner giving a motherly lecture, the Summit County elections board settled the issue Wednesday of where early voting will be offered.
Brunner, who called a special meeting and attended in person — an uncommon occurrence — again sided with her fellow Democrats on the board in favor of early voting at the Job Center. She did so after touring the Tallmadge Avenue building that board employees have been readying for early voting, which begins Tuesday.
''I think this will be an excellent location for early voting,'' she said.
The board's Democratic members have been pushing for early voting to be held at the Job Center, as it was in the November 2008 presidential election, because of space and parking constraints at the board's Grant Street office that resulted in long waits in the 2008 primary.
The Republican members of the Summit board have been arguing against using the Job Center, pointing to potential security concerns and questioning whether Democratic board member Wayne Jones should have voted on the issue because of an alleged conflict of interest.
Brunner previously broke a tie vote by the board in favor of voting at the Job Center, but Republican board members asked her to reconsider.
The secretary of state, who had planned to be in Akron on Wednesday for a training seminar and speaking engagement, called a meeting to settle the issue.
GOP board member Ray Weber and Brunner got into a heated, back-and-forth discussion that included both interrupting the other over Jones' alleged conflict.
Weber told Brunner the Job Center wouldn't be under consideration as an early voting site had Jones recused himself from voting. He thinks Jones has a conflict because Jones' law firm, Roetzel & Andress, is the statutory agent for Summit Workforce Solutions, the nonprofit agency that owns the portion of the Job Center where voting would occur.
''I think this whole thing undercuts the faith people have in the electoral process,'' he said.
Brunner told Weber he can pursue Jones' alleged conflict through another forum, but she said this issue shouldn't be the basis for holding up a
decision on the early-voting site.
Weber said he isn't sure he will raise the issue of Jones' potential conflict in another forum.
''If this issue goes away, I will wonder why you brought it up,'' Brunner told him.
Brunner said she thinks the security and parking concerns Republican board members have raised about the Job Center have been or will be addressed by Tuesday. This includes extending a tarp to serve as a barrier between the voting space and an adjacent area a heating, ventilating and air conditioning repair school is using and adding a door to restrict evening access by a construction crew working on the school's portion of the building.
With the Job Center issue decided, Brunner gave the board a nice, but firm, lecture about trying to get along. She said she has decided more tie votes for the Summit board — 35 — than any other county board during her time as secretary of state.
''You need to drop the partisan labels, come in and look at what is good for the voters of Summit County,'' she told them.
Weber said after the meeting that he isn't sure if he will pursue the issue of Jones' alleged conflict. He said he felt Brunner was pressuring him by saying she would question why he had raised the issue if he failed to follow through.
''That casts a shadow on my character,'' he said. ''I'll give some thought to it.''
Jones has insisted there is no conflict. He said his law firm hasn't represented Summit Workforce Solutions since 2008, and he never handled any legal issues for the agency. He said the agency is now represented by Brenna, Manna & Diamond, another Akron law firm.
Jones thinks the Republicans have been against the Job Center because they perceive easy access to early voting as an advantage for Democrats.
''They are fighting everything we are trying to do,'' he said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.