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Published: Friday, 1/23/2004

Account of postcard mailing is in dispute

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Lucas County auditor said yesterday the county Board of Elections' printers were working last month when a postcard mailing to 10,500 voters was postponed because elections board officials said the printers were down.

“They had six working printers,” Auditor Larry Kaczala said.

Mr. Kaczala also is secretary of the county's data-processing board, which oversees printing activities by the elections board and other county departments.

On Wednesday, Joseph Kidd, the elections board's executive director, said supervisor Larry Loutzenhiser told him there was a problem with the printers, new ones were ordered, and Mr. Loutzenhiser was waiting for them to be installed before mailing the postcards.

The issue was raised at an elections board meeting Wednesday by candidates for precinct committeemen in the March 2 primary whose petitions were rejected by the board.

Fifteen of the candidates' petitions were tossed out after they copied wrong information from an elections board Web site.

At the meeting Wednesday, the rejected candidates were told they had no appeals recourse through the board, and that they should not have depended on the Web site for information for their petitions.

Board Chairman Paula Ross also told the candidates that a postcard mailing last month to voters impacted by a precinct designation change should have ensured that they had the correct information.

However, Mr. Loutzenhiser told Mr. Kidd Wednesday afternoon the mailing never went out because of the printer problems - news that infuriated and embarrassed the election board's four members and also angered the rejected candidates and their supporters.

“They made a misstatement, and now they're trying to find an excuse for the misstatement,” said Dennis Duffey, business manager of Electrical Workers Local 8.

Mr. Kidd, who was in Columbus on business yesterday, said he has not yet had time to investigate the matter. He said about 18 months ago his office's computers became integrated with the printers to facilitate the process, but that there have been problems with large printing jobs.

Contrary to Mr. Kaczala's assertion, Mr. Kidd said based on the information he received from Mr. Loutzenhiser, his office had four printers at the time of the postcard mailing order and were waiting for the two new ones to arrive.

In the wake of the mailing brouhaha, the latest in a series of controversies involving the board over the past two weeks, board member Sam Thurber yesterday asked Ms. Ross by e-mail to call a special meeting for this afternoon to re-examine the rejected petitions and discuss staff personnel issues.

Ms. Ross, who's attending the Ohio Association of Election Officials conference in Columbus with other board members and staff, said she will not return to Toledo in time to hold a meeting today.

“I have no problem meeting next week,” she said.

The board was placed on the secretary of state's administrative oversight list in May, 2002, after a report by the county prosecutor uncovered serious problems between the staff's directors and employees. Director Antoinette Szuch resigned, and Mr. Loutzenhiser, the deputy director, was demoted.

Secretary of state officials said they are monitoring the situation.

“I think it's important to wait and see what comes out of [the board's] meeting before we address the issue,” James Lee, a spokesman for the secretary of state, said.



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