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Published: Thursday, 2/3/2011

Oust elections board

With each new revelation about how it was conducted, last November's election for Lucas County commissioner attracts greater doubts about its validity, reminiscent of the 2000 vote in Florida that made George W. Bush president. There is reason to distrust the stated outcome of last year's vote - as well as the competence and probity of the county Board of Elections, which administered the election and certified its result.

State law makes it hard to throw out election results or mandate new elections, even in cases of evident irregularities such as this one. But the continued controversy over the vote for commissioner - along with chronic problems at the elections board - give Ohio's new secretary of state, Jon Husted, ample grounds to exercise his legal authority to remove all four elections board members, Democrats and Republicans alike.

Election-night returns suggested that the Republican commissioner nominee, Toledo City Councilman George Sarantou, defeated his Democratic opponent, Sylvania Township Trustee Carol Contrada, by 1,376 votes. But after the elections board validated more than 4,000 provisional ballots - cast by voters whose names did not appear on official registration lists at the polling places where they showed up - it declared Ms. Contrada the winner by 193 votes. Ms. Contrada took office last month.

Mr. Sarantou is suing to seek a declaration that he won the election or to force a new vote. During a hearing this week in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, one of Mr. Sarantou's lawyers, Fritz Byers, argued that a statistical review suggests as many as 1,500 provisional ballots the elections board accepted were so defective they should not have counted. (Disclosure: Mr. Byers represents The Blade in limited legal matters involving libel, defamation, and open records and meetings.)

Mr. Byers also claimed that many of the envelopes that contained provisional ballots included incomplete or inaccurate information. Until a judge overruled them, elections board members tried to deny Mr. Sarantou access to the envelopes.

Mr. Sarantou is no longer alleging fraud in the certification process. But his lawyer says the cited irregularities make it impossible to tally the provisional ballots accurately - raising doubts about who won the election.

The board's defense of its actions appears to boil down to: We're not dishonest, just inattentive; we rubber-stamped whatever our staff did. Ohio law does need to be made much clearer on the appropriate treatment of provisional ballots. But that does not relieve elections board members of their duty to monitor and supervise elections vigilantly - a responsibility they failed to discharge here.

This isn't the first time in recent years that the Board of Elections engaged in, or tolerated by employees, conduct that raised questions about the integrity of elections in Lucas County. That includes overt partisan politicking by board members.

This should be the last time. The board has shown it can't be allowed to police itself. Secretary of State Husted, Ohio's chief elections officer, can start a process that will give voters a better elections board in Lucas County. He should do so.

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