MAHONING COUNTY GOP battles over candidate petitions

A hearing to hear protests and appeals is set for next week.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The fight for control of the Mahoning Republican Party rages on with established party officials filing 27 protests against the petitions of Mark A. Hanni-supported precinct committee candidates, and Hanni supporters filing 22 protests.
All but two of the petitions were for questionable signatures or because candidates voted in Democratic primaries during the past two years, which makes them ineligible under state law to run for Republican precinct committee seats.
Handwriting: Hanni, who is challenging Mahoning GOP Chairman Clarence Smith, urged the board today to hire a handwriting expert. Hanni used Bari Lateef, a handwriting expert from Tri-State Laboratories of Weathersfield Township, to review questionable signatures before filing protests.
The board agreed to retain the services of a handwriting expert, if one is needed.
The board threw out 56 nominating petitions last week -- 42 Republican and 14 Democratic -- for a variety of issues, including 13 because the signatures on petitions did not match the signatures on voter registration forms.
Most of those 42 petitions thrown out, and all 13 with questionable signatures, were from Hanni-supported precinct committee candidates.
Hanni's stance: "No candidates were disqualified for signature fraud from chairman Clarence Smith's group of candidates," Hanni said. "This fact is ... troubling because the board made allegations of fraudulent signatures based on the board's own analysis. This is the same as sitting as the prosecutor and the judge in a criminal case. The appearance of bias is so apparent that it stands due process on its head."
Hanni said most of his supporters who had their petitions disqualified will file appeals. The deadline to file is Thursday.
The board meets at 8 a.m. March 14 to hear appeals and protests.
Among the protests filed by Hanni supporters for questionable signatures were the petitions of Smith's son, Greg, and Sandy McCabe, the mother of Thomas McCabe, the board's deputy director.
Other protests filed were against the petitions of:
UMaureen Sweeney, a Republican candidate for county probate court judge. Hanni supporters filed the protest saying the petitions were invalid and also objected to Smith's participation in validating the signatures because he signed Sweeney's petitions.
UDavid Sisk, a Democratic candidate for the 59th Ohio House District, by state Rep. Kenneth A. Carano, who would face Sisk in the May 7 primary. Carano's protest said Sisk's petition had "severe irregularities." The signature of a petition circulator for Sisk was signed over an area that had been whited out.
UPearl E. Underwood, a Democratic precinct committee candidate in Youngstown Precinct 1H, by Roger L. Long, another Democratic candidate in that precinct. Long's protest says Underwood's petition does not have enough valid signatures.
The board also rehired Michael Sciortino as its director and McCabe as deputy director for the next two years. The board voted to keep Mark E. Munroe as its chairman.

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