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Published: Tuesday, 4/2/2013

Guiding light

Soap-opera accusations about elections board members’ private lives mask a serious question about residency

Feuding among Lucas County Board of Elections members has turned nasty — but this time, mudslinging among Republicans, not a partisan battle with Democrats, is the cause. Behind the continuing drama is an important question about whether a board member truly lives among the voters he serves.

Elections board member Jon Stainbrook, the Lucas County Republican Party chairman, wants fellow Republican Tony DiGidio thrown off the board, purportedly because he doesn’t live in the county. An ally of Mr. Stainbrook who raised the residency challenge has amassed evidence that he says shows Mr. DiGidio lives in Youngstown.

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As with any soap opera, that’s only the plot device. Republican Meghan Gallagher, the director of the elections board, has a grievance against Mr. DiGidio pending with the Toledo Bar Association over an unrelated lawsuit in which he represented her. Mr. Stainbrook notes that Mr. DiGidio could face a two-year suspension of his law license because of an alleged ethics violation.

Mr. DiGidio has fought back: Mr. Stainbrook has “low moral character,” he says. He claims Mr. Stainbrook and Ms. Gallagher have a “boyfriend-girlfriend romantic relationship.”

Mr. Stainbrook parries: “Mr. DeGidio, 58, ... is engaged to a 21-year-old Filipino girl, yet my morals are in question?”

It’s all very salacious. But it masks a real issue: The elections board is responsible for resolving residency issues involving voters. Shouldn’t the elections board members be able to determine where one of its own members lives?

Mr. DiGidio neither owns nor rents a residence in Lucas County; he appears to spend much of his time in Youngstown. It doesn’t matter, he says: “I use the address [in Youngstown] for a lot of things. It doesn’t mean it’s my residence. I could live here for a year if I want to, and that has nothing to do with my legal residency as it relates to a person’s right to vote.”

Last week, Democratic elections board members John Irish and Ron Rothenbuhler rejected Mr. Stainbrook’s attempt to oust Mr. DiGidio. Mr. Rothenbuhler reasoned that “although vague, [Mr. DiGidio] has stated his intent to remain in Lucas County.”

Questions about defining residency for public employees and appointed and elected officials are not new. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that cities cannot force public employees to live in the communities where they work.

Members of Congress are not required to live in the districts they represent. Still, where you lay your head at night should count for something. It should take more than a vague and nonbinding promise to return someday, maybe, to qualify as a county resident.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, the state’s chief elections officer, wants no part of this controversy. His spokesman says it’s up to local boards of elections to determine who qualifies as a county resident. But because this board has not shown it can govern itself, Mr. Husted may yet have to act as its guiding light.



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