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Published: Thursday, 7/24/2008

Brunner will lend hand to Lucas County Board of Elections

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ohio's chief elections officer says she will provide "transitional support" to the Lucas County Board of Elections because of concerns over leadership with the presidential election less than four months away.

In a letter to newly appointed county Elections Director Linda R. Howe and board Chairman Patrick Kriner, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner said she would personally participate in weekly conference calls.

Ms. Brunner requested that the director, deputy director, and two board members of opposite parties participate in the weekly call.

The Lucas County elections office emerged from state oversight in 2006 under then Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell. The current scrutiny from Ms. Brunner is less controlling.

"Since ending administrative oversight, the board appeared to be functioning adequately under the leadership of Jill Kelly and Dan Pilrose [Jr.]," Ms. Brunner wrote. "However, with less than four months before a presidential election with predicted record turnout, neither Mr. Pilrose nor Ms. Kelly is available to the board for day-to-day leadership and direction."

She acknowledged that the board had difficulties during the March, 2008, primary election, including reprinting and remailing absentee ballots, voter confusion with the return mailing of absentee ballots, and several problems with touch screen voting machine programming.

Ms. Howe yesterday said that her first three days on the job were busy and she was meeting with members of the elections office staff, who have been handling a large volume of voter registrations.

The elections board was the last in the state to report results from the March 4 election. Confusing instructions on absentee ballot documents may have contributed to 921 voters' ballots being invalidated for technical reasons.

The board also is facing a lawsuit filed this month in Ohio's 6th District Court of Appeals that accused it, under Ms. Kelly's leadership, of failing to comply with public-records requests that were submitted by Kelly Bensman, an associate of Lucas County Republican Chairman Jon Stainbrook.

That suit was filed July 8, two days before Ms. Kelly informed Mr. Kriner that she intended to take a leave.

The four-member board of elections swore in Ms. Howe on July 17 to replace Mr. Pilrose who stepped down as elections director June 30, citing medical reasons.

Ms. Kelly had been left in control after the resignation of Mr. Pilrose. Still undecided is whether the board will fill the post of deputy director, with the current deputy director, Ms. Kelly, on sick leave for an unspecified length of time.

Mr. Kriner said he was grateful the secretary of state is taking a close interest in the elections office "during its transitional time."

He said the office is preparing for the Aug. 5 special election during which the Anthony Wayne Local Schools is asking voters to approve two 3.3-mill levies. Mr. Kriner said preparations for the November election are on track.

The state assumed oversight of the elections board in 2002 after conducting an investigation that revealed several problems, including the misplacement of a local option question, a lack of training for staff, and an alleged report of lost voters on the voter registration file. A subsequent investigation in November, 2004, also revealed administrative mismanagement and problems in staff training.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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