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Ohio Politics

Republicans, Democrats square off at Board of Elections meeting

By admin Published: January 11, 2011

Stephanie Warsmith
Beacon Journal staff writer

Fourteen Summit County residents whose votes weren't counted in the November election improperly filled out registration cards, but weren't timely notified of the problem by the elections board.

Three others will have their votes thrown out if they vote in the Feb. 8 special election because of the same issue.

Gary Hagen, assistant to the board's deputy director, pulled employees last summer from notifying voters of incomplete registration cards — which had been the board's past practice — and didn't tell the board's director or deputy director. The director and deputy director only learned about his decision last week.

The four-member elections board discussed this issue during a heated meeting Tuesday morning that literally included finger pointing.

''I'm taken aback that you would take this action on your own,'' said Tim Gorbach, a Democratic board member, speaking to Hagen. ''I think we've got voters who might have been disenfranchised.''

The board's GOP members, however, defended the actions of Hagen, a Republican, and said there is no requirement in state law that the board notify voters of incomplete registrations.

''I think Gary did what we expect him to do,'' said board member Ray Weber.

Brian Daley, the board's Republican chairman, asked Director Marijean Donofrio and Deputy Director Ron Koehler to develop a policy for how the board should handle registrations that are deemed invalid for various reasons, such as not being fully filled out or lacking a signature.

Voters must complete the required information on registration cards to be registered and eligible to vote.

Hagen acknowledged he should have told Donofrio or Koehler of his decision. He said he decided to stop employees from addressing the incomplete registrations to have them handle other, more pressing work. At the time, he said, the board was in a financial crunch and he didn't think it could afford to bring in extra employees to handle the faulty registrations.

Donofrio, however, said the board would have brought in part-time staff to send letters and new registration cards to the voters.

In all, the board had about 1,300 incomplete registration cards. Of this, less than half were filed on or before the Oct. 4 deadline for the Nov. 2 election.

The registration deadline for the February election was Monday.

Election employees weren't yet done with their analysis of the incomplete registrations by the board's Tuesday meeting.

The incomplete registrations came to light when board supervisors began looking into 44 voter registration cards that a Summit County social worker failed to turn in to the board in August. The employee received a 10-day suspension.

None of the 44 voters attempted to vote in the November election. And if they had, their ballots would have not counted because they weren't registered, Koehler said.

Donofrio complained during the meeting about a lack of collegiality between Democrats and Republicans at the board.

''We communicate very little,'' she said, pointing to how Republicans didn't attend a recent dinner for a retiring Democratic employee.

Koehler objected to her assertion and, at one point, pointed his finger at Donofrio.

''Don't point your finger!'' Donofrio snapped.

Daley and Gorbach asked everyone to calm down.

After this, the Republican board members raised an issue pertaining to Democratic board member Wayne Jones.

Political gadfly Bob Smith sent an e-mail to the board last week questioning whether Jones received health-care coverage from Summit County for his wife, Dawn Jones. The couple is going through a divorce and Bob Smith is questioning whether they were legally married.

The Summit County Prosecutor's Office is looking into Smith's question and what information can be provided to him because of certain laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which restricts the release of certain medical information without a person's consent.

The board's Republican members suggested that Smith's e-mail also be forwarded to the Secretary of State's Office.

Gorbach said he thought this step would be ''premature and inappropriate.''

The board voted 2-1 to send the e-mail to newly elected Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican. Gorbach voted no, while Jones abstained.

Jones declined to comment after the meeting, saying he and his wife are in the middle of litigation.


Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com.
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