Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Primary stress

In Lucas County, a Board of Elections disaster, a GOP civil war, incumbents’ return — what else is new?




If Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, the state’s chief elections officer, required conclusive evidence of the need for a top-to-bottom purge of the Lucas County Board of Elections — and truly, that case was closed long ago — the botch the board made of the vote count in Tuesday’s primary election provided it.

Barely 10 percent of county voters took part in the low-profile primary. Even so, Lucas County was the last county in Ohio to report its returns, and was still counting some ballots at about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

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Between that hour and the poll closing at 7:30 p.m. the previous evening, board employees temporarily misplaced data cards, deleted a computer file of vote records, and were very nearly spectators to a physical confrontation between board members Jon Stainbrook and John Irish before a county sheriff’s deputy broke things up.

The moment has come — and is long overdue — for Mr. Husted to exercise his authority to remove all four elections board members and to seek new staff executives as well, in timely enough fashion to prevent a similar fiasco at the November general election. Only a new culture at the board, instituted by new leaders, appears adequate to exorcise its chronic dysfunction.

This week’s election brought another setback for Mr. Stainbrook, the chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party — an institution nearly as fractious and toxic as the elections board. Mr. Stainbrook was denied re-election to the state GOP’s central committee, a possible signal of dissatisfaction with his leadership of the local party.

That might indicate a desire among Republican voters for a new chairman — one who could consistently recruit competent candidates, raise money, and give county voters a credible alternative to the dominant Democratic Party. A genuine two-party system would be in the interest of all county residents.

But given the recent history of the Lucas County GOP, the more predictable outcome of a succession struggle would be more factional division — along power-politics as well as ideological lines — more disorganization, and more failure at the polls. The prospect of such an ineffectual mess sounds a lot like the party’s status quo.

Otherwise, local primary results broke little new ground. Voters elected Toledo City Council member Matt Cherry, who benefited from strong labor support, to finish the term in the seat to which he was named to succeed D. Michael Collins after last year’s mayoral election. State Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township), and Democrat Carol Contrada, the president of the Lucas County Board of Commissioners, easily rebuffed party challengers.

Officials in the Sylvania and Bedford school districts must try again, after voters rejected tax levies. Across Ohio, voters approved a major bonding proposal to improve public infrastructure.

Also statewide, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald overcame minor opposition in the primary to win the Democratic nomination to challenge Gov. John Kasich this fall. Mr. FitzGerald pledges that with his election, “we’ll have the state Ohioans deserve.”

First, though, Ohio voters will have to ratify that outcome, if they choose. Then, their votes must be counted. In Lucas County, that process can’t be the adventure in November that it’s been too often in past elections, including this week’s.

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