Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Clean sweep

The purge of the Lucas County Board of Elections is a needed first step, but broader reforms must follow

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s overdue plan announced Monday to fire most of the top leaders of the Lucas County Board of Elections is a necessary — but not sufficient — response to the board’s chronic misconduct. The change the board needs is not merely in the faces of its executives, but more important in its dysfunctional institutional culture.

Acting on the proposals of the bipartisan “transparency committee” he named to review the election board’s operations, Secretary Husted used his authority as Ohio’s chief elections officer to seek to remove board chairman Ron Rothenbuhler, board members Jon Stainbrook and Anthony DeGidio, director Gina Kaczala, and deputy director Daniel DeAngelis. Secretary Husted cited the “overall neglect of duty that has endured” at the board.

The officials will have the opportunity this week to appeal their dismissals. If they have any respect for the county voters whom they have failed to serve competently, they’ll go quietly.

The firings followed the board’s chaotic performance in last week’s primary election. Board employees misplaced data cards and deleted (and had to restore) a computer file of vote records. A candidate for Toledo City Council claims that improper instructions from poll workers to voters depressed her vote total. Despite a scant turnout, Lucas County was the last county in Ohio to report its returns.

The transparency committee cited longer-term board irregularities: constant partisan and personal squabbles, mishandled records, a failure to document violations of state law on campaign finance reporting. The panel’s case for the dismissals is compelling.

Curiously, Mr. Husted’s ax spared Democratic board member John Irish, who nearly came to blows with Mr. Stainbrook during last week’s vote-counting.

Mr. Irish tried previously to institute some of the board reforms Secretary Husted proposed. He cannot be held responsible for the passive response to the board’s shoddy performance that his fellow Democrat, Mr. Rothenbuhler, displayed as board chairman.

But Mr. Irish’s own long record of partisan hackwork hardly offers a model of the professional leadership and administration the board needs now. He ought to go as well.

Mr. Rothenbuhler, the chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, and Mr. Stainbrook, the head of the county Republican Party, are in a position to nominate their own successors and Mr. DeGidio’s replacement. They should not get the opportunity to resume partisan warfare at the elections board with proxies.

Mr. Husted must make clear that he will not tolerate such an effort. A better approach would be to recruit well-respected retired judges of both parties to serve as election board members. The new director and deputy director should be outside professionals.

All board employees who remain evidently need to be retrained to perform the most basic job duties adequately. That means, among other things, spending their taxpayer-subsidized work time on direct elections administration — an example that must be set at the top.

Lucas County residents must feel confident that when they vote, the elections board will count their votes accurately, fairly, and promptly. Anything less encourages cynicism about, and mistrust of, government. Mr. Husted properly concluded he “cannot jeopardize the integrity of future elections in Lucas County. The citizens and voters deserve better.”

Secretary Husted frequently has lamented that he has spent more time cleaning up after the Lucas County board than every other elections board in Ohio combined. He needs to do what he can now to ensure that he, or a successor, won’t have to conduct a similar purge in a few years.

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