A NEW report ordered by Ohio’s chief elections officer details — again — the dysfunction at the Lucas County Board of Elections: a lack of leadership and accountability for basic daily operations, deficiencies in managing public property and records, and a pervasive institutional climate of “mistrust and paranoia.”
All of this should discourage county voters who expect the board to fulfill its duty to conduct clean and efficient elections. None of it is new.
Board members are ignoring the central recommendation of the bipartisan report commissioned by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted: that they fire the board’s Republican director and Democratic deputy director. But whatever the merits or drawbacks of that plan, “no” is not an adequate response in itself.
If board members disdain Mr. Husted’s suggestions, they have a responsibility to develop and execute their own action plan to correct, at long last, the problems the report identifies. They should do so within 60 to 90 days.
If they can’t or won’t do their jobs, the four board members — two Democrats, two Republicans — should have enough respect for voters to resign. And if they refuse to do so voluntarily, Mr. Husted should invoke his legal authority to remove them.
Last August, Mr. Husted took the unusual step of assuming direct oversight of the county board to help it get through the 2012 election cycle, especially its conduct of early voting. He ordered the director and deputy director to report to “special masters” he named, and to check in with his office each day by phone.
But board members appeared to use the secretary’s oversight as the latest excuse to evade reform. So this week, Mr. Husted ended his role, telling the board that his office has contributed “all of the tools and resources that we can reasonably provide.”
In a meeting last week with The Blade’s editorial board, Mr. Husted lamented that he has had to spend more time on Lucas County’s fractious board than on all other county elections boards combined. This week, he reminded board members that they, not he, are accountable for county election operations.
Elections board member Jon Stainbrook, the chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, unsuccessfully proposed this week that all board staffers other than the director and deputy director should be dismissed and forced to reapply for their jobs. He and board chairman Ron Rothenbuhler, who heads the county’s Democratic Party, asserted that board employees must act more responsibly.
Board members should set an example for their staff. They can start by demonstrating that they are more interested in making sure elections go smoothly than in using their board posts to pursue narrow partisan advantages and deadlocking along party lines on key issues.
They can hire employees who are distinguished by their professional skills rather than their political credentials. They can respect the board’s communications structure rather than deal directly with lower-level employees.
Mr. Stainbrook told The Blade’s editorial page this week that the board is making more progress than the report acknowledges. If so, such change needs to be communicated more clearly.
He also said he agrees with much of the content of the new report. That would seem a firm foundation on which to build a meaningful reform plan. “The voters deserve better, and we’re going to give it to them,” Mr. Stainbrook said.
The City of Toledo will hold major elections this year for mayor and City Council; the primary is barely six months away. The Board of Elections needs to right the ship before that. Its members’ watchword should be simple: Reform or resign.
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