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Published: Friday, 10/23/2009

Stainbrook says elections board staff violated law

BLADE STAFF

The Lucas County Board of Elections in August allowed an Ottawa Hills councilman to put additional signatures on his nominating petition after he had already turned it in, a possible violation of state election law.

Ottawa Hills Village Councilman John Straub, a Republican, submitted part of his nominating petitions Aug. 20 at 9:04 a.m., then turned in an additional page of signatures almost seven hours later.

State law requires candidate petitions to be filed not in installments, but as a "single instrument."

Lucas County Republican Party Chairman Jon Stainbrook said the episode proves that the board of elections "plays favorites."

Mr. Stainbrook has been a relentless critic of the board of elections and has requested unsuccessfully the resignation of the two Republican board members who were appointed by his predecessor, whom he defeated in a contest for chairman in 2008.

Mr. Straub, a lawyer and veteran Ottawa Hills village councilman, turned in two pages of signatures that were date and time-stamped at 9:04 a.m., and then another page that was time-stamped at

3:53 p.m.

Linda Howe, director of elections for Lucas County, maintained that the dual dropoffs of paperwork didn't violate the law because Mr. Straub did not receive his receipt for his nominating petitions until the last part of his petition was submitted. She said her view is that the issuing of a receipt marks the document as filed.

Ms. Howe said the clerk, Lori Jacek, had time and date-stamped two pages of signatures before she noticed that the candidate was 14 signatures below the required 50. The candidate, by then, had already signed the checklist, which reminded him that 50 was the minimum number.

She said Mr. Straub believed his minimum number of signatures was 25, but that John Borell, the assistant Lucas County prosecutor assigned to the elections agency, explained the law to him.

Mr. Straub, who has been elected six previous times to the Ottawa Hills village council, said Mr. Borell told him that until he has a receipt his petitions are not deemed filed. He said the board employees were going out of their way to be helpful to candidates trying to meet the deadline.

Mr. Stainbrook labeled "ridiculous" the argument that the issuing of a receipt determines a document's filing. He said that the date and time stamp on a document is what marks it as having been filed.

He said the elections board bent over backward for Mr. Straub but made no accommodation for him when he missed an Aug. 20, 2008, deadline to designate Jan Scotland as the GOP's nominee for the Lucas County Board of Commissioners. Mr. Stainbrook, then in his first few months as chairman, did not know about the deadline and said the Republicans on the elections board should have reminded him.

"It's incompetence at the highest levels at the board of elections. They have one standard for their favorites and another standard for people they don't want on the ballot," Mr. Stainbrook said.

Ms. Howe said she would talk to the board about changes in its procedures as a result of the incident.

Ms. Howe said the comparison with the Scotland situation is not valid because she maintains her staff didn't violate election law in the Straub situation, whereas the office was clearly prohibited by election law from accepting Mr. Scotland's document after 4 p.m.

She said the board tries to be helpful to people in dealing with the technicalities of election law.

"We get criticized if we're not helpful to people, and then if we are helpful we get criticized," Ms. Howe said.

Jeff Ortega, a spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, said the dispute is not for Ms. Brunner to settle.

"This is a local board of elections issue," Mr. Ortega said. He said the deadline to have filed a protest of a candidate's qualification to be on the ballot was Aug. 31.

- Tom Troy



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