SHEFFIELD TWP. — Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted sided Monday with the two Republicans on the Lorain County Board of Elections, agreeing that flaws with a petition to reform county government weren’t serious enough to keep the issue off the November ballot.
The board’s two Democrats voted July 10 against allowing the measure to appear on the ballot because it contained language from two separate portions from Ohio law governing county government reform and because it didn’t have an attached appendix detailing the seven districts for a proposed county council.
Husted wrote that only the issue of where the districts would be was serious enough to place the issue in jeopardy, but it wasn’t enough to prevent ballot access.
“As to that issue, testimony offered during the board meeting by circulators and signers of the petition suggests that copies of the map contained in Appendix A were, in fact, circulated along with the petition and displayed at signing locations,” Husted wrote. “Having heard that testimony, the board cannot ignore it.”
But Husted also noted that the reform effort can only make the ballot if backers can gather the valid signatures of 1,160 registered voters to make up a shortfall. Supporters of the plan needed to gather 7,782 valid signatures and turned in 7,867, but 1,245 of those were declared invalid by the elections board.
Brian Hoagland, one of the leaders of the reform effort, said there has been a continuing effort to collect signatures since the meeting, but it’s not clear if those signatures can be counted. Organizers have until later this month to gather enough signatures.
“I’m happy. I’m excited about it,” Hoagland said of the decision. “We’ve still got our work cut out for us.”
Helen Hurst, one of the Republicans on the elections board, said Husted made the right call.
“I really think it’s an issue that needs to be decided at the ballot box,” she said.
Democratic elections board member Anthony Giardini said he’s concerned about what Husted’s decision means not only for the present dispute but also for the future.
“To me it sets a pretty dangerous precedent,” he said. “… What happens the next time we get a petition that’s not complete?”
Democrats have long opposed the reform effort, which they have argued is designed to hand control of county government to Republicans. Proponents of the plan have said the effort is bipartisan.
The plan calls for the three at-large commissioners to be replaced by a seven-member county council that will appoint several other county leaders, many of which are currently elected positions.
Giardini said without the map of the districts, voters have no idea of the proposed districts they’d be included.
Another wrinkle for supporters of the reform plan comes in the form of a protest against their petitions filed by Avon Lake attorney Gerald Phillips, who said Monday that Husted has not yet ruled on his complaint.
He said if Husted denies his protest, he’ll file a legal complaint in the court system to try to stop the reform effort from appearing on the ballot. Phillips complaint echoes many of the concerns raised by Democrats, something he said was supported by “clear-cut law.”
Phillips also said Republicans appear to support the reform effort, and Husted’s decision likely was politically motivated.
“It’s a political decision in my opinion,” Phillips said. “I’m just shocked.”
Hurst said she abstained from voting earlier this year when her fellow Republicans voted to back putting the reform plan before voters.
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