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Published: Wednesday, 8/20/2003

Paperwork fix keeps candidates on ballot

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

OAK HARBOR, Ohio - The Ottawa County Board of Elections cleared the way yesterday for two township trustee candidates to remain on the November ballot, officially resolving a paperwork glitch.

In a unanimous vote, board members accepted corrected documents from Jerry Blatt of Bay Township and Glenn Cooper of Put-in-Bay Township. Both men signed and submitted papers with the current falsification warning required by state law.

“I'm relieved,” Mr. Blatt said after filing his updated paperwork. “I just hoped all along it would go the right way, which it has.”

When the two men picked up their petitions this spring at the elections office, they were mistakenly given forms that included an outdated falsification warning. That appeared to invalidate their petitions.

Board member Hal Clagg expressed regret for the mistake.

“We apologize again for the problem and the trouble we put you through,” he told Mr. Cooper and Mr. Blatt. “I'm glad we were able to do something about the inequity.”

The candidates had learned in June about the error, which seemed to invalidate their petitions. A state law enacted last year makes it illegal to withdraw, refile, or amend election petitions after they're filed.

That appeared to leave the two men with no option but to run as write-in candidates. But county Prosecutor Mark Mulligan advised the board that state law seemed to treat the election petitions and the outdated form as separate documents, even when they were printed on the same page.

That distinction, he said, would allow Mr. Blatt and Mr. Cooper to submit corrected forms with the current falsification warning, making their petitions valid.

With two days before Thursday's filing deadline for the Nov. 4 election, the four-member board accepted that reasoning yesterday in a pair of unanimous votes.

However, board member Terry Rowe expressed some unease with the solution, and he criticized Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell for his hands-off approach to the matter. Mr. Blackwell's office previously said the issue should be settled locally.

“I am very disappointed with the secretary of state in this issue,” Mr. Rowe said. “I feel what we are doing is questionable at best. ... If the secretary of state has a problem with it, it's his own fault.”

In an interview after the vote, Mr. Mulligan said he had no problem with the state's response.

“The secretary of state generally advises the local boards to follow the advice of their county prosecutors,” he said. “I know that some of them would have liked more input from the state on it, but I'm comfortable with my opinion and the action that the board has taken.”

Both candidates said the uncertainty of the last two months took its toll.

“It was extremely taxing, very nerve-wracking, and very upsetting at times, because it was hard to get any concrete answers,” Mr. Cooper said.

Mr. Cooper, 46, a senior ferry captain with the Miller Boat Line, will face at least one opponent in November. Eric Engel has filed petitions to run for the trustee's seat in Put-in-Bay Township. The incumbent, Carley Tobias, took out petitions but had not returned them as of yesterday.

Mr. Blatt, 52, a self-employed plumbing contractor, is the only candidate who has filed for Bay Township trustee. Douglas McDougall took out petitions but had not filed them as of yesterday.

“It's been a long summer,” Mr. Blatt said.



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