Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has properly fired three of the four members of the Lucas County Board of Elections, after they refused to perform a public service by resigning. He suspended the fourth board member until the rest of the new board can take office. The actions of Mr. Husted, Ohio’s chief elections official, are entirely appropriate, overdue — and, if anything, too lenient.
But if Mr. Husted is to keep his oft-stated pledge to county voters that the elections board’s “culture of dysfunction ... must come to an end once and for all,” he will have to do more than merely change the faces at the top. And while it’s understandable that the secretary would prefer to wash his hands of the Lucas County mess for good, only he can properly oversee the long-term reforms that the county’s elections apparatus needs.
Secretary Husted removed the board’s Democratic chairman, Ron Rothenbuhler, and its Republican members, Jon Stainbrook and Tony DeGidio, for neglecting their official duties. These included such basic matters as failing to schedule regular board meetings and to forward campaign-finance reports to the state.
The secretary cited the need for a “clean slate” on the board, and insisted he “will not appoint any person with ties to the problems of the past.” Yet he opted to retain Democratic board member John Irish, who nearly came to blows with Mr. Stainbrook during vote-counting for last month’s primary election.
The secretary also allowed the board’s director, Gina Kaczala, to remain on an interim basis. Reacting to a recent revelation that board employees had incorrectly assigned the registrations of as many as 167 county voters — including several prominent Democratic and GOP officials — to the Green Party, Ms. Kaczala dismissed the snafu as “nothing new.” She says she’ll fix the mistake.
County voters deserve better. Mr. Husted has made a good start by recruiting Judges Peter Handwork, a Republican, and Charles Wittenberg, a Democrat, to help oversee the elections board’s transition. Both jurists would make excellent members of the reconstituted board.
But that won’t be enough. What Mr. Husted calls the “systemic issues” that plague the board have arisen from the determination of board leaders to pursue partisan advantage while they were supposed to be running elections.
How could it have been otherwise, when the two most influential elections board members were the chairmen of the county Democratic and Republican parties? So Mr. Husted needs to mean it when he says he won’t allow the parties to name new hacks to replace the old hacks.
As he announced the dismissals, Mr. Husted released the report of a deputy in his office whom he had appointed to examine the board’s recent antics. Much of the report consists of board members telling tales on one another — he said/he said, did-not/did-too allegations that couldn’t be verified independently.
Even so, the report offers ample evidence of what it calls the “toxic environment” at the board. It adds that the prospect that the board will heal itself “is simply not a viable solution.”
That’s why Mr. Husted’s engagement remains critical. The secretary says his office will monitor — in person as needed — operations at the elections board until the new members are sworn in.
The elections board’s chronic chaos has caused Lucas County voters to mistrust the process by which their votes are counted. That is intolerable.
Mr. Husted has made a good start on reforming the board so that its members, he says, “will work expeditiously in the best interest of not themselves, but the voters.” But that job is far from done.
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