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Published: Thursday, 4/24/2014 - Updated: 6 months ago

Litany of accusations aired before state panel

Committee aghast at elections board charges

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Borgemenke Borgemenke
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A bevy of grievous accusations directed at the Lucas County Board of Elections and its staff, including record tampering and an instance of near violence, became public Wednesday during the third marathon session conducted by a special committee convened by the Ohio secretary of state to investigate the agency.

“This is a casserole of nonsense,” said Scott Borgemenke, chairman of the transparency committee appointed by Secretary of State Jon Husted.

One charge, made by recently fired Republican booth official Matt Toepfer, claimed Democratic elections board employees had tampered with computer records of Republican poll workers.

The elections board voted 3-1 during a special meeting last week, with member Jon Stainbrook dissenting, to fire Mr. Toepfer because he had abused sick-time policy and failed to notify his superiors about a drug charge conviction in Toledo Municipal Court.

Mr. Toepfer on Wednesday said he was never contacted about his firing and that he did not have such a conviction. Court records show he pleaded no contest and that Toledo Municipal Court Judge Amy Berling ruled the “finding reserved,” which is not a conviction.

Elections Board Deputy Director Dan DeAngelis said he knew nothing about Mr. Toepfer’s claims that records had been altered.

For the third time, the four-member, blue-ribbon-style transparency committee interrogated elections board members Ron Rothenbuhler, Tony DeGidio, John Irish, and Mr. Stainbrook, along with Elections Director Gina Kaczala and Mr. DeAngelis.

Stainbrook Stainbrook
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The investigation is occurring at the same time the elections office is preparing for the May 6 election, for which early voting is already under way.

“This is an accusation game like three-card monte,” Mr. Borgemenke told the four-member board of elections near the conclusion of a 7½-hour meeting Wednesday.

“There have been grievous accusations throughout the 20 hours we have been here,” he said. “The secretary of state is going to be watching this election very closely. ... I think quite frankly, the gig is up.”

Mr. Borgemenke called the election board atmosphere “toxic.”

Other problems on which the transparency committee has pressed the board and its employees include reports of voting machines not properly tested before early voting began April 1; security of computer passwords; disruptive personality conflicts; policy violations, and fired employees.

The transparency committee Wednesday asked to inspect printouts from a voting machine that was used during the first day of early voting.

Mr. Stainbrook said the inspection showed that machine was not properly tested.

“These proceedings validated my concerns that voting machines at the early vote center were not properly tested for accuracy before being put out for the voters,” he said after the lengthy meeting. “From this point forward, we can assure the voters that it will be done properly for the May 6 election.”

Another accusation aired Wednesday came from a current worker at the elections board’s warehouse, Eric LaPlante, who accused Mr. Stainbrook of sending a text message to another warehouse employee ordering him to “work slowly as possible and do not report any errors.”

A third in the litany was claims was that employee Robert Walden, Jr. — a Democrat who manages the computerized Global Election Management System that records and counts votes — nearly came to fisticuffs with Mr. Stainbrook on the night of the November, 2013, election.

Mr. Stainbrook, a Republican who has been at odds with the two Democrats and fellow Republican board members, denied sending such a text and said the election night dispute was overexaggerated.

The issue of a possible election night confrontation was raised in a letter to the transparency committee by former elections board employee Noel Hahn.

In the letter, Mr. Hahn said the board of elections was a “hostile environment” that he “deliberately left.”

DeGidio DeGidio
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Mr. DeGidio said Mr. Walden was threatened by Mr. Stainbrook to “go outside” on election night.

Mr. Stainbrook said the dispute started when he asked Mr. Walden why absentee ballots had not been uploaded to the board of elections Web site.

“He took offense to me asking. There was no real altercation,” Mr. Stainbrook said. “No one went outside. No one was ever going to go outside. It was just election night tension.”

Mr. Walden was called to the meeting to give his side of the story.

“That incident had been brewing for several days and actually goes back to my first day of employment,” he said.

Mr. Walden said Mr. Stainbrook “just went off, jumped up out of his chair, came running up behind me, huffing and blowing.” He added: “In street vernacular, the next thing should have been a blow thrown, that’s how threatened I felt.”

Mr. Walden said he actually was the one who suggested Mr. Stainbrook step outside with him.

The differing details of the altercation and the response from Mr. DeAngelis and then-director Meghan Gallagher led to a barrage of questions from the transparency committee.

Jennifer Brunner, who is a former secretary of state sitting on the committee, needled Mr. DeAngelis for his lack of knowledge about the altercation, sarcastically asking him what he did know and saying he was being obtuse.

Also on the bipartisan committee is Jon Allison, a Republican lawyer from Columbus, and Democrat Jim Ruvolo, a former member of the county elections board.

Mr. DeGidio called for an investigation into accusation that Mr. Stainbrook sent a text message ordering staffers to slow down work and not report problems.

“I think it’s very serious and deserves an immediate response and an investigation,” Mr. DeGidio said. “The acts mentioned are criminal — obstruction of official business.”

Mr. Stainbrook responded by saying: “I didn’t send a text, I didn’t receive a text.”

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171 or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.



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