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Saturday, December 20, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 11/27/2010

Counting the vote

Jon Stainbrook, the chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, complains about the county Board of Elections so often that people might be inclined to tune him out. But his latest accusation - that the way the board handled provisional ballots from the Nov. 2 vote may have stolen the election from a Republican candidate - merits investigation.

Republican George Sarantou appeared to have won the race for Lucas County commissioner on Election Day by 1,376 votes over Democrat Carol Contrada. But when the 4,145 provisional ballots were counted, Ms. Contrada was declared the winner, by a razor-thin 191 votes. An automatic recount will be conducted on Tuesday.

Ms. Contrada's apparent come-from-behind win deprived Mr. Stainbrook and county Republicans of a key victory. Mr. Sarantou and others are concerned that the elections board may have made fatal errors in validating the provisional ballots that handed the election to the Democrats.

The county GOP is questioning whether the elections board correctly adopted a policy setting out procedures for processing provisional ballots before delegating the task to staff members.

In addition, Republicans want to know more about how the validity of provisional ballots was determined. They asked to look at the ballot envelopes, but said they initially were told that a directive from Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner just before the election had advised that the envelopes were not public records.

The county GOP filed Freedom of Information Act requests for information about how provisional-ballot eligibility was determined and how the number of provisional ballots seemed to grow from about 2,300 on election night to more than 4,500 last week. Ms. Brunner should be paying attention as well.

Mr. Stainbrook has long wanted to replace the Republicans on the elections board - board members Benjamin Marsh and Patrick Kriner and deputy director Jeremy Demagall - with members of his own choosing, including himself. He believes Mr. Kriner and Mr. Demagall, who are supporters of the former party leaders displaced by Mr. Stainbrook, have been working to undermine him.

It's tempting, therefore, to dismiss these latest claims as just another example of unseemly intraparty feuding. County elections officials say they did everything they're supposed to do. One even suggested that Mr. Stainbrook doesn't understand the law.

But if the elections board's handling of provisional ballots was as slipshod as Mr. Stainbrook contends, that would at least suggest that Messrs. Kriner, Marsh, and Demagall aren't doing a good job of sticking up for the rights of Republicans.

More important, it would call into question the impartiality of the elections board. Provisional ballots in Lucas County generally favor Democratic candidates. If the board employed practically nonexistent voter-identification standards, that could be seen as unfairly aiding Ms. Contrada.

Controversy over the commissioner's race casts a cloud over another vote: the Springfield Local Schools' 3.9-mill property-tax proposal. The levy trailed by 54 votes on election night, but gained enough provisional ballots to put it over the top. Opponents of the levy might be interested to know what standards were used to validate those provisional ballots.

No right is more important than the right to vote. There should be as few impediments to voting as possible, consistent with the need to prevent fraud and abuse. But while fraud is rare, the identity of voters must still be verified when doubt arises.

Checking to make sure that happened is more than sour grapes or crying wolf.



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