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Published: Tuesday, 6/24/2014 - Updated: 1 month ago

COMMENTARY

Board of Elections is no 
place for hacks

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

Many years ago, as a whippersnapper, I worked briefly in the office of the late Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy. The senator was many things: a writer and poet who could read and play music and who also once played semi-professional baseball. A renaissance man, really.

For 22 years he served in the Congress. And, as a boy, he grew up on a farm in Minnesota. I heard him talk once about the “the cockerel step.” The rooster, often with great flourish, steps forward, steps backward, steps left, and then steps right. In the end, his step comes down in the same place.

Mr. McCarthy said politics often worked that way in Washington.

So it is with the Lucas Country Board of Elections.

Small-time partisan politicians have made a mockery of the elections board, and, to a lesser degree, the election process.

The infighting and bickering reached a head, and the Ohio secretary of state stepped in. He removed three board members and placed judges, temporarily, in their places.

Next came the cockerel step: The chairmen of the Lucas County Democratic and Republican parties were allowed to name one and two replacements, respectively. That’s the custom. The new head of the Democrats, Steve Steel, picked the party’s treasurer (though she will resign this post if she takes her seat on the Board of Elections). GOP Chairman Jon Stainbrook nominated two cronies.

Some people who’ve followed this soap operetta said: “Well this is more of the folks who caused the problems in the first place,” at least on the GOP side. But I think it’s more than a matter of personalities at stake here.

What’s wrong is the very idea that these posts should be filled by partisans — party hacks, if you will.

Now. I have some respect for party hacks. They are what make political parties go.

But I don’t think they have an inherent right to control the mechanics of elections.

Those mechanics should be one step removed from politics.

And I think the history of the Lucas County Board of Elections shows us why elections should not be in partisan hands. It’s a bad idea in concept. It makes me think of Cook County, Illinois, back in the day, and of the way Mr. Putin conducts elections today.

So the situation in Lucas County is this: The party hacks made a mess and were removed. The choice of their successors has been left in the hands of the same party hacks. And they have — surprise — nominated other party hacks.

That’s a cockerel step that need not be tolerated.

My hope is that Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted will reject the nominees of the two party chairman and, again, appoint judges to fill the seats.

Further, I hope that a present, or future, member of the legislature, preferably from Lucas County, as a recompense for the mockery that has been made of the electoral process here, will introduce legislation to change state law. The power to appoint members of a county elections board should be taken from local party chairmen and given to the secretary of state, and all appointments should be nonpartisan.

Or, elections boards could be abolished and the elections process handled entirely by civil servants.

Hacks should not have charge of the electoral process. I think we’ve proven that.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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