BOWLING GREEN — Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted describes Lucas County as an anomaly in a well-functioning election system.
“For the most part, we run an exceptional system of elections,” Mr. Husted said while speaking Thursday at a regional conference for elections officials. “It’s ridiculous what’s gone on there, and there is no defense for it.”
Election officials from the surrounding counties listened to his speech about the 2014 election cycle at Bowling Green State University as part of a series of summer regional meetings.
Mr. Husted focused on the improvements the state has made, such as doing better audits, reducing the fraud rate, and facilitating voting by military personnel overseas. He addressed the situation in Lucas County in response to a question from Henry County Board of Elections member Bill Booth.
The Republican secretary of state removed three election board members June 5 after a history of what he called dysfunction and neglect of duty: Republicans Jon Stainbrook and Tony DeGidio, and Democrat Ron Rothenbuhler.
State law allows the local Republican Party to nominate replacements. On Tuesday, Mr. Husted rejected the two Republican nominees for the county board of elections, saying they were both involved in the problems of the past. Mr. Husted is awaiting a response from the local GOP. The local party can either send two new nominees or file a mandamus in the Ohio Supreme Court. In interviews after the speech, Mr. Husted declined to speculate on what further action he would take if Mr. Stainbrook challenges his rejection in court.
“We didn’t get rid of everybody at the board with the idea of putting in puppets and cronies,” Mr. Husted said. “I’m hoping ... to put in good, qualified people who will set aside partisanship and pettiness and personal animosity for the good of Lucas County.”
Mr. Stainbrook rejected Mr. Husted’s characterization, and threw the labels back at him.
“Cronyism runs rampant in the office of the Secretary of State,” Mr. Stainbrook said, naming top Husted appointees who had been hired from Husted’s House office and other political positions. “How dare he use the term crony when his office is stacked top to bottom with cronyism? They’re all political hires.
“There is absolutely no way a secretary of state can come in without factual things to disregard or find someone not suitable or competent to be on the board,” Mr. Stainbrook asserted.
Mr. Stainbrook said he is consulting with Columbus lawyer Bill Todd as well as with members of the county party’s executive committee to decide whether to file suit. The case would likely challenge Mr. Husted’s right to decide what constitutes incompetence in a board of elections member. The law says the secretary of state may reject a nominee if he deems the nominee not competent.
Though he promised the elections board would be in place in time for the Aug. 5 special election, Mr. Husted still is reviewing the Democratic nominee for the elecboard, current party treasurer Brenda Hill. Mr. Husted did not provide information about when the review would be complete.
Ms. Hill said Thursday she has received no word about the status of her nomination.
“There was change needed,” said LaVera Scott, interim deputy director of the Lucas County Board of Elections, said after Mr. Hu-sted’s address. “We need a board that can work together and serve Lucas County, not individual agendas.”
Politics writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.
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