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Extended voting hours OK'd

Lucas County board approves 2-days-a-week plan


Lucas County Board of Elections will open the early vote center, 1302 Washington St., on Jan. 31. The Board of Elections recently voted to extend hours at the center twice a week.

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The Lucas County Board of Elections agreed to offer two days a week of extended hours for early voting in the March 6 primary election after Republican board member Jon Stainbrook tried to reduce it to one day a week.

The 3-1 vote came during a fractious meeting in which the Democratic and Republican board members bickered while also reaching agreement on some subjects.

Early voting begins Jan. 31 at the early vote center, 1302 Washington St.

Hours for voting will be 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. the weekend of Feb. 25-26, and 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 2, the last day of early voting. The voting center will be closed Presidents Day, Feb. 20.

Mr. Stainbrook argued that the board could save money by offering just one day of evening voting hours a week.

Ron Rothenbuhler, the board chairman, said the extra 90 minutes would not bust the board's budget, but would ensure voter access.

Republican Tony DeGidio joined the two Democratic board members, Mr. Rothenbuhler and James Ruvolo, in approving the hours. Mr. DeGidio's vote with the Democrats averted a tie, which would have had to be broken by Secretary of State Jon Husted and could have delayed finalizing the voting hours for weeks.

Also Tuesday, the board briefly questioned Michelle Dudley, manager of information technology for the elections board, about an alleged email hacking incident that prompted an investigation by Toledo Police and the FBI.

Ms. Dudley was read a statement from Mr. DeGidio notifying her that she had to answer questions about the incident and that none of the information she provided in response to questions from the board could be used against her in a criminal proceeding.

Asked by Mr. Stainbrook whether she had accessed, with passwords, the email accounts of any other employees, Ms. Dudley, with attorney Jerome Phillips at her side, said, "No, I have not."

Mr. DeGidio told Ms. Dudley that, "there were a number of emails which apparently were sent directly from the email accounts of Ben, Meghan, and Gina," referring to Ben Roberts, the former elections director, Meghan Gallagher, the elections manager, and Gina-Marie Kaczala, administrative assistant, all Republicans.

The informal hearing was recessed at Mr. Ruvolo's request until he could be provided with copies of the emails.

The incident stems from a claim in December by Republicans that an email was posted from the account of Ms. Kaczala without her knowledge.

Jeff Lingo, head of the criminal division of the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office, has confirmed that an investigation is taking place but declined to give further details.

The board also sparred over the political activity of its employees, spurred on by a paragraph in a letter last week from Mr. Husted. Mr. Husted said he was concerned that a board employee was involved in filing petitions for a then-candidate for Lucas County commissioner, Republican Constantine Stamos, and advised the board to review its ethics policy.

The paragraph was an apparent reference to Ms. Gallagher, who took the day off on Dec. 7, the day she filed the Stamos petitions.

Mr. Stamos has since been removed from the ballot because of a deficiency in his petition.

Mr. Ruvolo said Ms. Gallagher didn't do anything illegal or unethical because the board's ethics policy restricting circulating candidate petitions applies only to the director and the deputy director.

He proposed expanding the policy to exclude all employees from being able to circulate signature petitions for candidates, other than themselves as candidates for party central committees.

Mr. Stainbrook noted that Ms. Gallagher took the day off but said at least two other board employees filed petitions to run for one of the party central committees during work hours.

The motion was held up for further review after the Secretary of State's representative, Tim Monaco, and assistant Lucas County Prosecutor John Borell said the new policy might infringe on employees' First Amendment rights. Mr. Ruvolo agreed to postpone discussion of his proposed policy amendment.

The board also approved the $3,079,365 budget approved for 2012 by the board of commissioners.

The 18-percent increase over 2011 reflects that 2012 is a presidential election year, Deputy Director Dan DeAngelis said.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.

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