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Published: Wednesday, 11/21/2012

19 absentee ballots cast by jail inmates rejected over delivery person

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

The Lucas County Board of Elections on Tuesday rejected 19 absentee voter ballots from inmates at the regional jail in Stryker, Ohio, because they were delivered to the board office in Toledo by someone other than a permitted relative or county official.

According to members and employees of the elections board, the 19 ballot envelopes were set aside after staffers saw that they were delivered in bulk, which is not allowed.

Jon Stainbrook, a Republican member of the elections board and chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, said the board will investigate the situation and if it believes any laws were broken, will refer the case to the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office for possible prosecution.

The question of the prisoner ballots came up during the board’s meeting Tuesday to determine the validity of more than 10,000 provisional ballots as well as a few absentee ballots.

Ron Rothenbuhler, chairman of the elections board and one of the two Democrats, said the ballots from the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio in Williams County were delivered by WilliAnn Moore, a former president of the Toledo branch of the NAACP.

Keith Cunningham, deputy director of regulatory compliance for the Ohio Secretary of State and and special master overseeing the Lucas County elections board, said that employees in the office saw Ms. Moore drop off the ballots and as a result, the ballots were set aside to be reviewed later.

Absentee ballots can be mailed to the board or hand-delivered by the voter or one of a number of relatives enumerated in state law, but by nobody else.

In the case of people confined in jails and nursing homes, their ballots may be picked up by two employees of the elections board, one from each political party. Board policy does not allow board employees to leave the county to collect absentee voter ballots.

Mr. Rothenbuhler said he was told by Ms. Moore that she was not allowed to provide postage for the mailers or put money into the inmates’ accounts to pay for the postage. An absentee voter ballot cost $1.30 in postage to return.

“They’re out of the county, which is why the county couldn’t send somebody to pick them up,” Mr. Rothenbuhler said. He said Ms. Moore “went and picked them up.”

Ms. Moore did not return a call seeking comment.

The issue created a heated exchange on the elections board when Mr. Stainbrook said the issue of the 19 questionable ballots was shared with Mr. Rothenbuhler before the meeting, but not with him or the other Republican member, Tony DeGidio. He said Dan DeAngelis, the Democratic deputy director, should have called him as well, since he discussed it with Mr. Rothenbuhler.

Newly appointed member John Irish remonstrated Mr. Stainbrook: “You’re not such a special board member that you get special phone calls, you understand that? We’re all equal board members here, Jon.”

Mr. Stainbrook responded, “Actually we are and we all have to be treated equally.”

He said it was “disturbing” to him that Mr. Rothenbuhler had information that he and Mr. DeGidio were not privy to.

In all, the board validated 8,439 provisional ballots and threw out 1,807 provisional ballots from the Nov. 6 election. About half the invalid ballots were cast by people who weren’t registered to vote. An additional 442 were cast in the wrong polling place and 252 were cast by voters who neglected to sign the ballot envelopes.

The validated ballots were then removed from their sealed envelopes and will be scanned and counted, with the totals to be announced Monday when the four-person elections board, two Democrats and two Republicans, meets to certify the official results of the election.

The additional ballots could make a difference in two races where the difference is less than the total number of outstanding provisional ballots: a 0.17-mill renewal levy for the Imagination Station children’s science museum that was defeated by 1,075 votes, and the race for Lucas County Common Pleas judge between Democrat incumbent Myron Duhart and Republican Kenneth Phillips. Judge Duhart leads that race by 2,954 votes in the preliminary count.

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



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