Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has taken a necessary — but not yet sufficient — step toward cleaning up the dysfunctional Lucas County Board of Elections by ordering the dismissals of the board's two top staff officials.
Now Mr. Husted needs to finish the job by exercising his legal authority to remove the three remaining elections board members of both parties, who have rubber-stamped the staff's intolerable performance. The fourth member, Republican Ben Marsh, has launched that process by announcing his resignation, although it is not immediate.
The staff's mishandling of provisional ballots in last November's election continues to cast doubt on the validity of several key races. The board accepted a staff recommendation after the election to count 4,157 provisional ballots cast by voters who came to the wrong polling place, lacked sufficient identification, or had not updated their registrations.
A Blade report this week concluded that the board upheld at least 527 ballots that should not have counted, and hundreds more that were legally or administratively suspect. Although voters will never know for sure, that decision appeared improperly to tip the election for the county Board of Commissioners to Democrat Carol Contrada over Republican George Sarantou. It also evidently made the difference in the outcome of a school tax vote in Springfield.
The newspaper found that county election workers failed to get, much less verify, adequate voter-ID data for more than 400 provisional ballots. They allowed voters to vote in the wrong precincts. They did not obtain, or in some instances "corrected," basic information required by law for provisional ballots.
Mr. Husted determined that former elections board director Linda Howe forwarded 114 provisional ballots cast in the wrong precincts that he said his predecessor as secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner, had directed should not count.
Ms. Howe blamed low-level poll workers for the problems with provisional ballots. She accused Mr. Husted of seeking to "disenfranchise" county voters by insisting that the board obey state election law and policy. Board Chairman Patrick Kriner defended her performance.
The board-imposed defects in the county's elections machinery were obvious long before the November election. Last spring, a board staffer posted online remarks about how a county resident allegedly voted. Some board members and staffers have continued to engage in overt partisan politicking while supposedly presiding over a fair, efficient, and credible elections process.
Mr. Husted says his review of the elections board is not done. There is ample precedent for cleaning house, both board and staff, in other Ohio counties that struggled with election problems and toxic political cultures. It has happened in recent years in Cuyahoga, Hamilton, and Summit counties.
The Lucas County Board of Elections has made clear, over and over, that county voters cannot trust it to police itself or its staff. Board members have failed to meet their obligation to administer elections with the kind of integrity and vigilance that inspires public confidence.
Secretary Husted must perform major corrective surgery on voters' behalf. The sooner he does so, the better.
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