Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted moved Monday to assert his most direct control of the Lucas County Board of Elections yet, citing the board's inability to agree on a bipartisan organizational chart with the presidential election so close.
"With the general election less than 90 days away and voting to start for military and overseas voters in less than 45 days, immediate measures must be taken to provide reasonable level of assurance that the election in Lucas County will be administered in a professional manner," Mr. Husted, a Republican, wrote to the four board members, Democrats Ron Rothenbuhler and Keila Cosme and Republicans Jon Stainbrook and Anthony DeGidio.
He put the board's director and deputy director under the direct supervision of two "special masters" whom he will appoint and ordered the two of them to check in each morning by phone with the secretary of state's office when they arrive and phone in when they leave at the end of the day.
Mr. Rothenbuhler said the board has two urgent situations -- no agreed-on location yet for the county's early-vote center and a vacancy in the information technology manager's position. The board has deadlocked in 2-2 votes on both issues. A regular board meeting is scheduled for today.
"We have got to do a much better job between now and the election or those who are here will not be here," Mr. Rothenbuhler said.
Mr. Stainbrook said he and Mr. DeGidio have tried to work with the Democrats "in a true bipartisan manner, but the Democrats have had decades of doing things their own way and they are unwilling to compromise."
"It's unfortunate that the secretary of state was forced to do this, but we have bent over backwards to work with the Democrats to no avail. We will continue to deliver fair, accurate, honest, and transparent elections for the citizens of Lucas County," Mr. Stainbrook said.
In recent weeks, the board of elections has sent numerous 2-2 tie votes to Mr. Husted to break.
One of those tie votes was on an organizational chart proposed by Democrats Rothenbuhler and Cosme. Mr. Husted broke the tie vote in opposition to the plan and gave the board until Aug. 9 to produce an organization chart all four could support. If not, Mr. Husted said, he would take more direct control of the board.
In his letter Monday, Mr. Husted said the board failed "in this most fundamental task of local elections administration."
Among the requirements in the Secretary of State's letter:
Two "special masters" will be assigned to oversee the office. Republican Director Meghan Gallagher and Democratic Deputy Director Dan DeAngelis would retain their titles "but will be relieved of all duties previously assigned" and will work at the direction of the special masters until further notice. The two have often accused the other of not doing their jobs.
The director and deputy director must copy the secretary of state with all their emails.
The director, who is paid $85,594 a year, and the deputy director, who is paid $83,874, are required to "clock in" and "clock out" each day with a phone call to the secretary of state. Additionally, each will be subject to random phone calls from the secretary of state's human resources director to check "their time and attendance." The two often dispute over communication and staffing issues.
A regional information technology support liaison will be on site in Lucas County at least two days a week and the board will get additional support from Dominion Elections Services on a contract to be negotiated with the company.
As a final step, Mr. Husted said he was appointing bipartisan election administration consultants to report to him by Dec. 31 to recommend changes in policies and procedures.
Mr. Husted said if any of the board members choose to resign he would work with the respective political party to "find a suitable, community-minded, public servant to appoint to the balance of your term."
"Since becoming Secretary of State, my office has devoted an inordinate amount of time to mediating the personal and political squabbles of the Lucas County Board of Elections," Mr. Husted said.
He said state law puts the two major political parties in charge of overseeing local elections, and in most counties, the process works "well enough, either as result of hardworking people of good will or by detente."
But he said, "In Lucas County, the internal board culture is dysfunctional. The underlying operational culture is divisive and threatening.
"Board members and staff refuse to communicate with others resulting in meetings and conversations that dissolve into worse than stalemate. It is clear after several attempts to work constructively with all parties, including my most recent request for cooperation; this board is unable to meet the minimum operational standards we expect as we prepare for a presidential election," Mr. Husted said.
Mr. Husted had the Lucas County board under administrative supervision in 2011, but lifted that supervision in November.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.