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Published: Tuesday, 8/28/2012

Husted fires 2 Montgomery County elections officials who defied new rules on early voting

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Two county elections officials who defied Ohio’s secretary of state over early voting are out.

Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, followed through today with his threat to fire two Montgomery County Board of Elections Democrats who voted for expanded board hours on weekends for the casting of early in-person ballots.

“After reviewing the report of the hearing officer following the August 20, 2012 hearing, I can draw no other conclusion: You knowingly and willfully violated Ohio election law by not following (the early voting directive) which Ohio law requires you to follow,’’ Mr. Husted wrote in a letter to the board’s chairman, Thomas J. Ritchie, Sr. and member Dennis Lieberman.

“Thus, you are immediately dismissed from the Montgomery County Board of Elections,’’ he wrote.

A hearing officer contracted by his office on Monday confirmed his authority to fire the two and recommended that he do so.

Hearing officer Jon Allison, who served as chief of staff to former GOP Gov. Bob Taft, said the two men knew they were acting in defiance of Mr. Husted’s unprecedented directive setting one set of early voting hours for all 88 counties. That directive included expanded weekday hours but made no mention of weekends.

The decision could be the subject of yet another court battle, adding to litigation on multiple fronts either in the pipeline or threatened:

— A new federal court ruling preventing the state from enforcing a law that disqualifies provisional ballots, the ballots of last resort, when a voter shows up at the right multi-precinct polling place but casts his vote at the wrong precinct table due to poll worker error. Mr. Husted is expected to appeal the decision.

— The promise of a new lawsuit by a group calling itself Judicial Watch to force Mr. Husted to purge voter registration rolls to reflect what it characterizes as discrepancies with U.S. Postal Service records. It has already filed similar suits in other states.

—A pending decision in a lawsuit filed by President Obama’s re-election campaign seeking to reopen the final days before the election to early in-person voting by all voters, not just military members and their families. That three-day window was closed under a law passed last year.

—A lawsuit filed last week by backers of a voter referendum on a GOP-enacted state elections law overhaul that Republicans have since repealed. The suit seeks to force the referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot and to kill Mr. Husted’s early voting directive in the meantime as an illegal reenactment of a portion of that now defunct law.



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