Friday, Sep 30, 2016
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Cleveland's elections mess

WRESTLING with the Cuyahoga County board of elections - the 800-pound gorilla of Cleveland politics - has been no small challenge for generations of state officials, so we have to applaud Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner for taking on this thankless task.

Ms. Brunner, part of last November's near-sweep of Democratic state offices, is preparing to fire all four members of the elections board, which has over the years become a particularly vivid symbol of how political hacks can impede efforts to run efficient elections.

Elections in Cleveland are, as usual, in a mess. In last May's primary, the board presided over an administrative meltdown that delayed voting results for nearly a week.

Earlier this month, two members of the elections staff were convicted and sent to prison on criminal charges stemming from the 2004 presidential recount.

With another primary coming up in May, the election office's top three administrative positions are vacant as a result of board wrangling, prompting Ms. Brunner to declare that "extraordinary measures" are necessary.

She demanded the resignations of the two Republicans and two Democrats who make up the bipartisan panel.

Three of the four, Edward Coaxum, Jr., and Loree Soggs, both Democrats, and Sally Florkiewicz, a Republican, complied. The fourth, Republican Robert Bennett, has vowed to fight to the bitter end.

Mr. Bennett is, of course, the state Republican chairman, which is why Ms. Brunner's action is a bold one.

Also, firing Democrats in Cleveland is politically touchy, especially for a Democratic state official.

While the Secretary of State has the authority under state law to remove election board members summarily for cause, Ms. Brunner is giving Mr. Bennett the chance to defend himself in a public hearing, to be held April 9. That's more than fair.

Firing elections boards is comparatively rare in Ohio, but secretaries of state of both parties occasionally have done it when local boards become incapable of governing themselves. Witness the political polarization that tied up the Lucas County board back in 2004, prompting two years of administrative oversight imposed by the state.

Ohio election results have proven decisive in the last two national elections, which makes sorting out the mess in Cuyahoga County, the state's largest population center, all the more important.

Secretary of State Brunner is to be commended for her decisive action.

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