BOARD OF ELECTIONS Lawyer: GOP members should not hear case
The two Republican board members have no plans to step aside.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- An attorney representing 27 candidates targeted for removal from the primary ballot by the Mahoning County Republican Party says the board of elections' two GOP members should not be permitted to determine his clients' political fates.
David Betras filed documents Monday asking the board and Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell to not allow Republicans Clarence Smith and Mark Munroe to vote on protests filed against his clients by the party.
Smith, party chairman, and Munroe, elections board chairman, serve on the party's executive committee. Four party officials filed the protests on behalf of the central committee after receiving Smith's authorization to do so, Munroe said.
Munroe said neither he nor Smith were directly involved in filing the protests.
"It's like a prosecutor sitting in judgment of a case he's prosecuting," said Betras, an attorney retained by Mark A. Hanni to represent the 27 Republican precinct committee candidates.
Hanni is running for party chairman against Smith.
Petitions being challenged include those of opponents of Munroe, Smith, and Smith's son, Greg, for precinct committee seats.
The committee seats are vital to Smith and Hanni because the precinct winners in the May primary will vote for party chairman.
Wants recusals: Betras wants the elections board or Blackwell to remove Smith and Munroe from presiding over the protest hearings, set for 8 a.m. Thursday. Betras wants Blackwell to appoint two Republicans to replace them.
There is no provision in Ohio law permitting someone to cast a ballot in the place of a county board of elections member, according to the secretary of state's office.
Munroe said that he and Smith will not step aside from hearing the protests but that there may be cases in which either one or both will abstain from voting on the eligibility of certain petitions. The elections board needs to have at least three of its four members vote for it to take any action.
Betras plans to call Munroe and Smith as witnesses during Thursday's hearing. Munroe said Betras could try to do that, but the board controls the hearing.
"The board oftentimes has to make decisions on partisan issues and candidates," Munroe said. "When we conduct board hearings, we take off our partisan hats. If we were to recuse ourselves every time a Republican candidate came forward, it would leave the Democrats on the board to decide on Republican issues."
Problems with petitions: Most of the 27 challenges, as well as 22 filed by Hanni supporters, 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 committee posts.
The board hired Paul Easton of Youngstown for $200 to serve as its handwriting expert at Thursday's hearing.
The board also threw out 56 nominating petitions for committee candidates -- 42 Republicans and 14 Democrats -- for a variety of reasons. Most of the Republicans were Hanni precinct committee candidates.
Those removed can opt to appear at Thursday's hearing seeking to regain their eligibility.
"The board threw people off without a hearing," Hanni said. "The entire process is unfair. They overlooked large discrepancies on their petitions. This is just a desperate attempt on chairman Smith's part to hold on to the Republican Party."