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Published: Monday, 8/27/2012

Hearing officer recommends firing of 2 Montgomery County elections officials


COLUMBUS — A pair of Democrats on the Montgomery County Board of Elections who pushed for weekend early voting in violation of a directive from Ohio’s top elections official should be fired, a state hearing officer recommended today.

Secretary of State Jon Husted is expected to make a final decision on Tuesday.

He saw the votes of Thomas J. Ritchie, Sr., and Dennis Lieberman as in defiance of his directive setting uniform hours across all 88 counties for in-person early voting for the Nov. 6 election. That directive provided for expanded weekday hours but made no mention of weekend hours.

Jon Allison, a hearing officer working under contract with the secretary of state’s office for this case only, did not accept the arguments of Mr. Ritchie and Mr. Lieberman last week that they saw their votes for weekend hours as augmenting the Republican secretary’s directive, not defying it.

He said that the original wording of the directive and a follow-up clarification letter from Mr. Husted’s deputy assistant made the secretary’s intent clear.

“I conclude that no reasonable person… could conclude that [the directive] is ambiguous and permits weekend hours for in person absentee voting,” Mr. Allison wrote. “Therefore, I conclude that Mr. Lieberman, in making his motion, voting for it, and later refusing to rescind it did so in contravention of [the directive] and in violation of [state law].

“Mr. Ritchie, who seconded the motion and voted for it, also did so in violation of [state law],” he wrote.

On Aug. 20, Mr. Husted suspended the two Democrats after they deadlocked 2-2 with Republicans on the board over the scheduling of weekend hours.

Last week, following a hearing before Mr. Allison, Mr. Husted temporarily reinstated them so they could continue to make some election-related decisions while the case was pending.

Voters may begin to cast absentee ballots by mail or in person beginning on Oct. 2.

With county boards of elections setting their own early-voting hours, Mr. Husted faced criticism for breaking 2-2 ties in a number of Democrat-performing urban counties, including Lucas, in favor of Republicans’ positions of not adding any extra hours at board of elections sites for in-person early voting.

At the same time, a number of boards in Republican-performing counties had reached bipartisan agreements that expanded early voting hours there, including on Saturdays.

Mr. Husted responded with his directive establishing one set of hours for everyone.

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