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Published: Wednesday, 12/15/2010

Troubling vote count

Certifying the wrong winner in an official election report is more than "unfortunate." It adds to a growing list of errors and incompetencies that call into question the Lucas County Board of Elections' ability to administer one of Americans' most basic rights in an open, fair, and honest manner.

This week, Republican George Sarantou filed suit in Lucas County Common Pleas Court contesting the Nov. 2 vote tally in which his election-night lead of 1,376 votes for county commissioner turned into a 193-vote loss to Democrat Carol Contrada when 4,144 provisional ballots were added to the tally. Ms. Contrada was named on nearly 69 percent of provisional ballots.

Among the documents uncovered was a report signed by Linda Howe, elections board director, and Republican board member Patrick Kriner that certified to Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner that Gina-Marie Kaczala defeated Anita Lopez in the race for Lucas County Auditor.

In fact, Ms. Lopez handily won the election and the error was easily corrected. But Ms. Howe's attempt to brush off the mistake as "unfortunate" is troubling.

Mr. Sarantou is challenging the way provisional ballots were counted. His lawsuit alleges "irregularities, errors, frauds, and mistakes" that resulted in ballots being accepted that should not have counted. He wants the court to declare him the winner or order a new election.

His claim is backed by county Republican chairman Jon Stainbrook, who has been a constant critic of the elections board for more than three years. Mr. Stainbrook wants to replace Republican board members Ben Marsh and Mr. Kriner with people of his own choosing, including himself. And he has claimed that Democratic officials - from local judges to Ms. Brunner - have conspired to protect Ms. Howe.

In the latest incident, an unnamed election-board staffer typed the wrong result from the auditor's race in the official report sent to the state board of elections. The error was compounded when Ms. Howe, and Mr. Kriner, who signed the report, failed to notice the mistake. Ms. Howe admitted she didn't even proofread the report.

It is legitimate to ask how voters can trust election results when mistakes and questionable activities are so regularly uncovered. When an election result hangs in the balance, county election board leaders must do more than cavalierly dismiss questions about their competence.

It is appropriate that the court review how provisional votes were counted in the race for Lucas County commissioner. More generally, it's time for Ms. Brunner to take a serious look at how the local elections board does its job.

Election board members should welcome the scrutiny. People with nothing to hide have nothing to fear.



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