As he mucks out the Augean stable known as the Lucas County Board of Elections, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted is doing precisely what he has said he will do to achieve genuine reform. So it’s time for the county’s Republican and Democratic parties to take the state’s chief elections officer seriously, instead of trying to maintain the intolerable status quo on the board under new names.
This week, Mr. Husted, a Republican, rejected county GOP chairman Jon Stainbrook’s effort to place two of his allies on the elections board. The vacancies arose this month after the secretary fired Mr. Stainbrook and two other members of the four-person board for neglecting their official duties.
Mr. Stainbook said Mr. Husted’s veto of his nominees was unfair, and threatened to take the dispute to the state Supreme Court. But he shouldn’t have been surprised: Mr. Husted warned at the time of the firings that he would “not appoint any person with ties to the problems of the past.” When Mr. Stainbrook made his nominations last week, Mr. Husted said he was dismayed that the candidates had “ties to the failures of the past.”
Yet Mr. Stainbrook still refused to take the huge hint. In a letter this week, Mr. Husted noted that one of the GOP nominees he rejected, Benjamin Roberts, was director of the elections board in 2011 before he quit just five months into the job. He said Mr. Stainbrook’s other nominee, Kelly Bensman, “on more than one occasion ... has been a primary figure in an altercation or incident” at the board.
Mr. Husted implored Mr. Stainbrook to “do the right thing for the voters of Lucas County and advance individuals who will provide the stewardship and fresh perspective the rebuilding” of the elections board requires. The chairman now needs to respond positively to this appeal to his better instincts.
So does the county Democratic Party. Mr. Husted muddled his reform message when he kept Democratic operative John Irish on the elections board, even as he fired former party leader Ron Rothenbuhler as board chairman. But his call for qualified board nominees applies no less to Democrats than to Republicans.
The party’s new chairman, Toledo City Councilman Steven Steel, has proposed party treasurer Brenda Hill to replace Mr. Rothenbuhler on the elections board. Ms. Hill, a past president of the Toledo Board of Education, has numerous appealing competencies. It isn’t apparent than administering elections leads that list.
Both parties continue to ignore their best course: nominating well-respected local retired judges to elections board seats. Party officials say they have discussed the vacancies with Judges Peter Handwork, a Republican, and Charles Wittenberg, a Democrat; both judges have overseen the board’s recent transition. In the end, though, the parties gave this option only lip service while pursuing discredited business as usual.
Mr. Husted correctly observes that “the Board of Elections is too critical to the function of our democracy to appoint any individuals who are not fit to serve.” The board’s antics in recent years have given Lucas County voters ample cause to wonder whether their votes are counted fairly and efficiently. That’s unacceptable.
If the county’s two major parties are as committed to the interests of voters as they claim, they will finally put partisan nonsense aside and nominate candidates to the elections board who will inspire public confidence, not derision.
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