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Published: Monday, 5/17/2010

Toward better elections

THE Lucas County Board of Elections acted properly last week when it fired a board worker who commented online about how a county resident voted in this month's primary election. The board effectively had no choice; secret ballot and all that.

But to the extent that the employee's Facebook posting - which also called the chairman of the county Republican Party a "snake" - reflects the overt politicization of the board's work force, board leaders clearly must do more to persuade voters of the integrity of the local election process.

The issue is even larger than whether individual ballots are secure from prying eyes at the board, although that surely is a critical concern. The issue is whether the board and its employees can be expected to conduct honest, fair elections while they also engage in partisan activities.

The fired employee, Trish Birmingham Moore, earlier had demanded - on the Facebook page of Election Board Chairman Patrick Kriner - the ouster of county GOP Chairman Jon Stainbrook, who is battling a rival faction for control of the party. In the May 4 primary, Ms. Moore was elected to a seat on the local Republican central committee, beating a candidate affiliated with Mr. Stainbrook.

All of which makes especially intriguing her Facebook posting, which asserted that Allan Block, chairman of The Blade's parent company, voted for Mr. Stainbrook, who ran unsuccessfully in the primary for the state Republican Party's central committee.

Ms. Moore and board executives insist she was merely speculating on how Mr. Block had voted, based on a statement he allegedly made that she overheard. A board investigation concluded that she did not evade security procedures to inspect Mr. Block's ballot.

But the public animus she has displayed toward Mr. Stainbrook makes the board's assurances about the sanctity of the ballot in Lucas County less conclusive than they otherwise might have been, and need to be. Her claims that her firing was unjust and that her only offense was "making stupid comments" suggest a mindset that, if it is shared by her former board colleagues, is troubling.

Mr. Stainbrook says other election board employees are biased against him as well. The board needs to investigate whether such bias, if it exists, affects their work. If the board refuses, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, Ohio's chief elections official, should conduct an independent review.

This is not just an intramural Republican squabble. It also affects Democratic, independent, and third-party voters who want to feel confident that the ballots they cast are secret, secure, and not compromised by political agendas at the elections board.

No government office should be a haven for partisan political activity. But such activity is especially detrimental when it occurs at the agency that is charged with administering clean, accurate, and ethical elections.

If other employees are also using the board as a base for pursuing individual political concerns rather than overseeing the best elections the county can run, then Ms. Moore's departure must not be the last one.



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