Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted on Tuesday rejected the Lucas County Republican Party’s two nominees for vacant seats on the board of elections, saying both were too involved with the panel’s dysfunction of the last several years to be able to serve.
In a three-page letter to county GOP chairman Jon Stainbrook, Mr. Husted said Benjamin Roberts and Kelly Bensman are what he meant when he said he would not accept nominees with “ties to the problems of the past.”
“It is my hope that you and your committee will once and for all do the right thing for the voters of Lucas County and advance individuals who will provide the stewardship and fresh perspective the rebuilding of the Lucas County Board of Elections will require,” Mr. Husted wrote.
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Mr. Stainbrook said Ms. Bensman and Mr. Roberts are well-acquainted with election board practices. He accused Mr. Husted of basing his conclusions on unproven allegations and said the party may challenge the rejections in the Ohio Supreme Court. The local party has hired Columbus lawyer Bill Todd.
“We will look at it for the next few days and determine whether it’s appropriate to bring litigation to restore the law and make it clear that the secretary of state can only reject with a substantiated set of reasons,” Mr. Todd said.
Ms. Bensman and Mr. Roberts were nominated by the county party’s executive committee last week.
The vacancies exist because Mr. Husted on June 5 removed three board members: Mr. Stainbrook, former Democratic Chairman Ron Rothenbuhler, and Republican Tony DeGidio, blaming them for a culture of dysfunction and neglect of duty.
Mr. Husted has not yet said whether he will appoint the Democratic nominee, former Toledo school board member and current party treasurer Brenda Hill.
Mr. Husted, a Republican, is required to accept the parties’ nominees unless he deems them to be incompetent. The Republican executive committee can either send Mr. Husted two more nominees or challenge the rejections.
“Should the Lucas County Republican Executive Committee choose to recommend two other electors to serve, I insist that they be unconnected to the well-documented problems of the past. Of the more than 29,000 registered Republicans in Lucas County, surely there are well-qualified individuals who can serve the voters of Lucas County with competence and integrity,” Mr. Husted said.
Mr. Husted said Ms. Bensman has been “not only involved, but is a central figure in creating an environment of dysfunction and distrust” at the election board. He cited her behavior on election night, May 6, which The Blade described as “stalking ... like prey” board employees during the vote-counting process.
“Ms. Bensman was frequently cited by board members and staff as being a source of intimidation and provocation that would at times escalate to claims of both verbal and physical altercations both by and toward Ms. Bensman, with one of those altercations leading to her removal from the Government Center,” he said.
Mr. Stainbrook said Mr. Husted’s rejection of Ms. Bensman is particularly unfair because he said he was threatened by Democratic board member John Irish on election night, yet Mr. Irish was spared from the removals ordered on June 5.
Mr. Irish said Tuesday that Ms. Bensman’s behavior was accurately portrayed by The Blade, and he said he stepped in to stop Mr. Stainbrook from harassing Elections Director Gina Kaczala.
“It had to stop and thankfully it did stop after I stepped in,” Mr. Irish said.
Regarding the other Republican nominee, Mr. Husted said Mr. Roberts was unable to change the board’s caustic environment while he was director for five months in 2011. He said that during Mr. Roberts’ tenure, “accusations among staff of impropriety such as possible email hacking and misuse of time, an absence of policies and procedures, and partisan division proliferated.” He also said that Mr. Roberts presided over confusion surrounding a final vote tally and canceled poll worker training in advance of an election.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com, 419-724-6058, and on Twitter @TomFTroy.