Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Small ball, big stakes

The brawl for control of the Lucas County GOP can’t be allowed to obstruct needed reform of the elections board

HENRY Kissinger is widely, if dubiously, credited with the observation that academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small. Mr. Kissinger evidently has not encountered the Lucas County Republican Party.

Control of the local GOP is of interest primarily, if not exclusively, to the party factions that are waging a war of popguns against each other. But their conflict is causing collateral damage to the ability of the Lucas County Board of Elections to do its job fairly and effectively. That should concern all county voters.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, the state’s chief elections officer, fired three of the four board members last month for neglecting their official duties and presiding over a “culture of dysfunction.” One of the sacked members, county GOP chairman Jon Stainbrook, promptly nominated two of his lieutenants to fill the Republican board vacancies.

Mr. Husted, a Republican, just as promptly rejected the nominees, noting that he had warned both parties against proposing board candidates who had “ties to the failures of the past.” Instead of taking the secretary’s good advice, Mr. Stainbrook said last week that the party will challenge Mr. Husted’s vetoes before the Ohio Supreme Court.

Mr. Stainbrook assailed the secretary’s “rigidity,” telling a Blade reporter: “We should be fighting Democrats.” That summarizes the source of the chronic dysfunction at the elections board: the eagerness of both parties to use it as a vehicle for political advantage rather than efficient administration of voting.

The state Supreme Court, six of whose seven members are Republicans, should affirm Mr. Husted’s correct decision. And Mr. Stainbrook should try again to identify potential candidates for the elections board whose qualifications go beyond personal loyalty.

On this matter, the faction challenging Mr. Stainbrook’s leadership of the Lucas GOP got it half right. The splinter group, composed of disaffected Tea Party types and longtime Stainbrook adversaries, proposed the nomination to the elections board of Peter Handwork, a Republican and one of two retired local judges — the other is Democrat Charles Wittenberg — named by Mr. Husted to work with the board during its transition.

The rival group’s nomination is meaningless, because both Mr. Husted and the Ohio Republican Party have made clear that Mr. Stainbrook’s organization remains Lucas County’s official GOP hierarchy. And the faction compromised its reform message by proposing that the other GOP seat on the elections board go to a former board chairman, also ignoring Mr. Husted’s oft-stated desire for competent new blood.

But the presence of Judge Handwork (and Judge Wittenberg) on the elections board remains an excellent idea, if they are willing to serve and if both parties can place the interests of Lucas County voters ahead of their own prerogatives. Of course, if the parties were capable of the latter, the Board of Elections would not have become the fiasco it is.

The board succeeds to the extent that it counts the votes of Lucas County residents, and administers other election procedures, accurately and fairly. Nothing else matters. When the parties concede that, reform will be possible.

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