Out of the Shadows—Board of Elections Thrust Into the Spotlight

. September 25, 2018.
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Normally only under scrutiny when they lose a voting card on Election Day or find a box of ballots afterward. Like weeks later. Certifying candidates and issues to the ballot is usually a rubber stamp as long as they’ve submitted petitions with sufficient signatures. Until now. So who are these animals?

First there’s the full time staff of bean counters and pencil pushers including Director Lavera Scott and Assistant Director, former council member, Theresa Gabriel. The staff is composed of equal parts Ds and Rs, making it bipartisan rather than nonpartisan. The Director and Assistant Director are required to be appointed by opposite parties. Scott is a D. Gabriel was appointed by the Rs.

Then there’s the actual Board, composed of four individuals, two appointed by each of the major parties. The staff makes findings regarding election type issues and presents them to the Board. The Board makes the final decisions. As a County level board, the BOE’s legal counsel is supplied by the County Prosecutor’s office. The Board is subject to directives from the Secretary of State (Ohio’s Chief Elections Officer), and the Board’s decisions are appealable to the Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

The Chair of the Board must be from the opposite party of the Director. The current Board Chair is Republican Bruce Saferin. Accordingly, Director Scott is a D. The rest of the Board includes Josh Hughes, a D, Republican David Karmol and Dem Brenda Hill.

Take a seat

The Board meets once or twice a month, for which they are paid thousands of dollars annually, plus full health care benefits. Most of the Board’s work is mundane and unremarkable. Candidates’ committees circulate petitions and collect signatures. Staff verifies which signatures belong to valid, registered voters and count those up, then report the count to the Board. The Board meets, and if the candidate submitted enough valid signatures, they are (typically) certified to the ballot. The same basic process is followed to put issue referendums on the ballot. Collect sigs, submit to staff, staff verifies and counts and reports to the Board. Enough valid sigs? Board rubber stamps certification to ballot.

Enter two issue referendums on this year’s ballot

One issue would have forced any County Jail that was to be built in Toledo, to be built downtown. The other issue was the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, a citizen led effort to make some rules about just what ends up in our Great Lake. Petitions circulated? Check. Signatures gathered? Check. Submitted, verified, counted, sent to the Board as sufficient in number? Check.

Rubber stamp certification to ballot? Whoopsy daisey, not so fast.

Seems the Board’s legal counsel had big problems with the two initiatives. Reasons were provided including, “Improvident wording.” “Wouldn’t be prudent.” “Or legal.” All of which lead to the Board refusing to certify the questions to the ballot. And that’s that. Except for the appeals to the Courts. And the hootin’ and hollerin’.

Unelected bureaucrats arbitrarily throwing citizen initiatives off the ballot? Well, not exactly. Unelected, yes, but they are just following the structure and, after all, that is the BOE’s role, to certify issues to the ballot. Or not. Sure, they very rarely exercise discretion in this role. But it doesn’t mean they can’t. Arbitrary? They followed the advice of their lawyer. Whether the BOE’s actions or the lawyer’s advice was arbitrary will be determined in court.
And now the moral of the story? Being on the board of elections is one heckuva gig.

  • Janey Hildo

    Funny what Steve Steel is writing about these days, especially since he would give his left arm for as cozy a job as the Board of Elections.