Board of Elections members John Irish, a Democrat, second from left, and Jon Stainbrook, a Republican, exchange words Tuesday night. At left is former board director Meghan Gallagher.
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Lucas County’s Board of Elections was the last in the state to report results from Tuesday’s primary election on Wednesday morning — concluding an election in which the board’s reputation for dysfunction was on full display and which failed to reassure a worried secretary of state.
The Lucas County board posted the results of voting in all 352 precincts at 3:48 a.m. — hours after the time that all the other boards in northwest Ohio had posted their final results — and almost two hours after the last other large urban county posted. Still to come, at about 4 a.m., was the board’s report on the outcome of a special election for an open seat in Toledo City Council District 2.
Board members and about half a dozen of their staff and a paid technical consultant worked through the night and did not finish the necessary counting of write-in ballots until 9:28 a.m. Wednesday, which was when the board adjourned its final meeting.
An open question on Wednesday was whether five missing data cards had really been recovered, after a test of the cards that were produced showed that three of them were newly created on Wednesday rather than in April as claimed.
Secretary of State Jon Husted said he’s never seen a situation “as bad as the one I’m facing in Lucas County right now.”
He declined to say whether he might remove members of the board until after he gets the final report from a transparency committee that he already had put in place in the county.
Mr. Husted removed members of election boards in Montgomery County in 2012 and Putnam County in 2013, and he said the Lucas situation is worse than those were.
“It seems like they not only made mistakes, they don’t have the ability to put aside personal animosity within the board itself to thoughtfully respond to the mistakes they make,” the Republican secretary of state said.
The transparency committee — consisting of a former secretary of state, two former assistant secretaries of state, and a former state party chairman — had been set to meet last week, but the meeting was postponed to allow the board to concentrate on preparing for the election.
The committee will meet Friday, and Mr. Husted expects its report within days.
Mr. Husted is up for re-election this year. His Democratic opponent, state Sen. Nina Turner (D., Cleveland), said the important thing is that “despite what looks to have been a tough and tense night, the ballots were counted.”
“However, it is clear that additional mechanisms should have been in place to ensure the integrity of this and every election. Instead of chasing phantom problems, we should be making sure local boards have all of the tools necessary to create a positive experience for voters,” Ms. Turner said.
Franklin County was the last large county to file its report on the primary election before Lucas County, and that took place at 2:06 a.m. Cuyahoga County filed at 1:08 a.m.
Hancock, Henry, and Putnam counties had their reports summarizing 100 percent of precincts by 9:30 p.m. Ottawa, Williams, Fulton, Erie, and Wood counties reported by 10 p.m.
Sandusky, Seneca, and Defiance counties were the relative stragglers, posting all their precinct results between 10:25 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.
Posting late results has become a pattern for Lucas County, including:
● The November, 2005, election results were not released until 9 a.m. the next day, the last among Ohio’s 88 counties.
● Lucas County was the last in the state to report in March, 2008, at 11:45 a.m. the day after the election.
The delayed election report also may have been contributed to by board members and staff not making the best use of their own and staff’s time.
The board spent a lot of time debating “voter intent” on questionable paper ballots, trying to determine who the unidentified voter was trying to vote for on ballots with confusing marks. One meeting Tuesday night to evaluate 12 ballots lasted 45 minutes, holding up staff’s ability to scan in the newly remade ballots.
Similarly, the board staff was still manually entering the results of write-in votes for the Democratic and Republican county central committee until about 9 a.m. Republican board member Jon Stainbrook said employees were sitting around through the early morning hours with no work to do when they could have been inputting the results of write-in votes.
“This added on two to three hours — after two to three hours to figure out where the six memory cards were,” Mr. Stainbrook said.
Trouble with the election, which was being tabulated at the board’s early vote center, became apparent at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday when issues arose with memory cards. At that point, less than 73 percent of the results were posted online and had not been updated for about an hour.
Mr. Stainbrook told The Blade just before midnight that six data cards were missing, which was holding up the election count.
Recently installed Lucas County Elections Director Gina Kaczala initially said there were no missing cards, but later said five cards were unaccounted for and that they had no votes on them.
However, Chad Rowley, an employee of Dominion Voting Systems — the company that operates the touch-screen voting machines — confirmed just after midnight that five cards were in fact missing.
Mr. Stainbrook and Ms. Kaczala started trading barbs with each other with Mr. Stainbrook accusing Ms. Kaczala of lying to the media regarding the missing cards. The two argued loudly, and Ms. Kaczala stepped toward Mr. Stainbrook before board member John Irish stepped in.
The two seemed ready to fight before a deputy on hand to keep the peace split the two up.
“She lost five data cards,” Mr. Stainbrook, a Republican, said to Mr. Irish.
“Just shut up. Just shut up,” Mr. Irish, a Democrat, responded.
About 1:48 a.m., Deputy Director Dan DeAngelis announced that the five missing cards had been accounted for and the election tabulation was continuing.
“There were five that were never used here,” Mr. DeAngelis said, referring to the early vote center.
At 2:04 a.m. another problem blew up at the board of elections that would set release of the results back several more hours. Mr. Rowley was forced to delete a set of ballots that had been scanned because they weren’t showing up on his screen. The ballots were rescanned.
At 3:14 a.m., the issue of the five missing cards resurfaced. At the request of Mr. Stainbrook, Mr. Rowley checked the five cards for authenticity. Three of the cards appeared to have been created on Wednesday, while the two other cards showed creation dates in April — when testing for all cards to be used in the election and early voting occurred.
“They said these cards were for testing in April, but they were created today,” Mr. Stainbrook said. “How is that possible?”
Elections board employee Tim Reynolds said Mr. Stainbrook was mistaken, but he could not explain why the three cards showed May 7 creation dates.
“We don’t know if there were votes on these cards, but the whole point is there should have been a chain of custody and proper accounting procedures used for the whereabouts of these memory cards,” Mr. Stainbrook said.
He said he asked for an investigation but was blocked by Ms. Kaczala, Mr. DeAngelis, and the other three board members, Mr. Irish, Democrat Ron Rothenbuhler, and Mr. Stainbrook’s fellow Republican on the board and former ally, Tony DeGidio.
Three other machine memory cards contributed to the late reporting of election results.
One card was left with the voting equipment at the Toledo Police Museum at Ottawa Park. Elections officials found somebody with a key to the museum building and sent a bipartisan team to collect the missing memory card, Ms. Kaczala said.
“The person left the ballot box there. With the help of the sheriff we were able to get over and get it,” she said.
Two other memory cards were accidentally sent to the board’s warehouse a couple blocks away on Southard Street, rather than included in the red bag that was delivered to the vote-counting operation. Ms. Kaczala said board employees went to the warehouse to get the two cards.
“They were locked in a secured spot, but it’s time-consuming to get to those places,” Ms. Kaczala said.
The tension among board members and the staff settled down as the hours dragged on toward dawn. As he left at about 9:45 a.m., Mr. Stainbrook called out thanks to the staff who were still wrapping up loose election ends.
Ms. Kaczala said the gubernatorial primary ballot is an especially complicated one because each of the 352 precincts has a distinct ballot because of the Democratic and Republican party elections for county central committees.
While it was Ms. Kaczala’s first election in charge — she was promoted from board secretary in March — it’s not the board’s first time with such ballots. They happen every two years, and not just in Lucas County, but in every county.
One unique complicating factor for Lucas County was Tuesday’s parallel special election for Toledo City Council.
Ms. Kaczala said the dual elections could not be helped because the March 27 candidate deadline specified in the Toledo City Charter overlapped the period in which the board was required to have its primary ballot printed and loaded on machines for early voting, which started April 1.
“That decision was made before I came in,” Ms. Kaczala said.
Ms. Kaczala expressed appreciation for the staff.
“It was a team effort. I have to commend my staff. Everyone put in that little extra,” Ms. Kaczala said.
Final election turnout was 10 percent, with about 31,700 of Lucas County’s 312,412 registered voters casting ballots. The turnout in Ohio’s last gubernatorial primary, in 2010, was about 17 percent in Lucas County.
Staff writers Ignazio Messina, Jim Provance, and Janet Romaker contributed to this report.