Two issues that have long been festering at the Summit County elections board — how much the board needs for its budget this year and whether to have an off-site location for early voting — will come to a head today.
The board’s Democrats argue the board must have another spot for absentee voting because its current site on Grant Street in Akron is too small to handle the 20,000 to 25,000 expected to vote early in person. Summit County Executive Russ Pry, who is a Democrat, sent the board a letter Monday saying the county will give the board another $50,000 to cover the expenses, like rent and utilities, for such a site.
The board’s Republicans counter that off-site early voting isn’t required in Ohio — a recent survey found only three counties plan to have an off-site location in the November election — and that the board needs at least $1.1 million more than Summit County is offering to make it through the year.
These opposing views will clash in a meeting today expected to be packed because the Summit County Democratic Party put out a call for people to attend the meeting to urge the board to approve an off-site early voting location. Republicans, not to be outdone, also plan to have supporters in the audience.
Today is “going to be a big circus,” said Alex Arshinkoff, a Republican board member and the longtime county GOP chairman.
Tie votes expected
The board lately has deadlocked on any significant issue, which means Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, casts the deciding vote. Arshinkoff is predicting at least three tie votes today, with GOP board members proposing not having an outside early voting center and, in case Husted thinks an off-site spot is needed, both parties proposing the locations they favor.
The Democrats are pushing for the former hhgregg store at 1850 Buchholzer Blvd. near Chapel Hill Mall, while the Republicans prefer the second floor of the Beacon Journal building at 44 E. Exchange St. in downtown Akron. Both sides point to advantages with its site over the other party’s spot.
In 2008, 88,765 Summit County residents voted absentee, with 39,587 voting in person and 49,178 casting ballots by mail. This year, board officials estimate Summit will have 90,000 people cast absentee ballots by mail and up to 25,000 vote early in person.
Pry said in his letter to the board that the $50,000 the county is offering should “eliminate any confusion or concern” about how to pay for an early voting center.
Jason Dodson, Pry’s chief of staff, said it should be more than enough to lease a facility and make improvements to handle early voting.
He said the administration doesn’t want to see a chaotic scene with long lines at the elections board office if an off-site location isn’t selected.
The elections board and administration have been locked in a dispute over how much money is needed to run elections this year. The four-member board asked for $9.3 million, arguing that more cash is required to handle the presidential election.
But Pry recommended and County Council approved a $4.7 million spending plan. The board responded by eliminating 18 jobs and reducing the number of voting precincts to save money.
Waiting for response
In May, the administration met with the board and proposed increasing the budget to $5.4 million.
Dodson said the administration is waiting for a response.
“We gave them the revised budget and it’s been silent from their end,” he said. “They’ve given us nothing.”
Tim Gorbach, the board’s Democratic chairman, couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.
Arshinkoff has argued the board should sue the county to get the money it needs. He said Director Joe Masich has calculated the board needs $1.1 million to $1.3 million above the $5.4 million the county is offering to make it through the year.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine gave Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh an opinion, requested by the board, that said the board may not encumber money that has not been appropriated. He also said members of the board who violate this state law “may incur personal liability when a loss of public money occurs.”
Arshinkoff said he’s not willing to spend his own money on the election when the county should be providing it.
“With what little money I have, I am not going to take what little I can and give the county $250,000 for illegally spent public funds,” he said.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com.