By Stephanie Warsmith
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has told the Summit County Board of Elections to handle two complaints about board employees internally rather than subject the workers to possible criminal investigation.
The complaints stem from a controversy about whether the employees acted improperly by letting people into the election board’s offices outside of normal business hours. The board had the option of referring the complaints to the prosecutor’s office.
Husted said this is a “personnel matter, not a criminal matter” and ordered the board to “adopt a uniform policy that governs when board employees are allowed to open the doors to the public.”
The Democratic board members are upset about actions allegedly taken by Republicans on the morning of a July 10 board meeting that drew a large crowd. The election board was deciding whether to have an additional polling location for early voting.
The Democrats say a Republican employee opened the door early that morning and let Debbie Walsh, executive director of the Republican Party, inside, where Walsh assembled people in the lobby, checked their names off a list and gave them stickers saying “BOE observer.”
The Democrats, whose supporters assembled in the parking lot, said employees are supposed to refrain from partisan activity at the board.
When the Democrats brought up this issue, the Republican board members countered by pointing to an incident last December when a Democratic employee let someone into the office before the board opened to submit a petition. Ron Koehler, the board’s director, sent an email to all employees, asking them not to allow anyone into the office before it opens at 8 a.m.
Husted noted that the Republican complaint had already been handled. He called the Democratic complaint a similar “in-house matter” and noted that “neither party suggests that the individuals opposing the off-site early voting location had access to the secure parts of the board office when they were let into the public lobby.”
Tim Gorbach, the Democratic chairman of the board, was disappointed by Husted’s decision. He thinks the concerns that the Democrats raised were more serious than the Republican complaint.
“We brought forward matters we thought were pretty significant and pretty important,” he said.
Alex Arshinkoff, a Republican board member, couldn’t be reached for comment.
The board decided at its last meeting to keep the office locked until 8 a.m. and to require all employees to enter a separate entrance that will be open earlier.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith.