Ruling puts challenge to Strickland back on
A state official scolded the board for not acting quickly on the complaint.
By D.A. WILKINSON
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
LISBON -- A challenge to gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland's voter registration is back on -- at least for now.
A ruling released today by the Ohio secretary of state's office broke tie votes that had deadlocked the Columbiana County Board of Elections along party lines.
In recent polls, the Democratic congressman continues to have a sizable lead over his opponent in the governor's race, Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, who could have cast the vote to break the board's split votes.
But Monte Lobb, assistant secretary of state, broke ties by siding with each party on different votes.
Lobb also chastised the board for not acting quickly on the complaint.
Larry Bowersock, a Democrat and elections board chairman, said it wasn't clear when a hearing would be held on the lingering issue. Lois Gall, county elections director, and John Payne, the deputy director, are training poll workers through Friday.
Jacquelyn S. Long, a Democrat from East Liverpool, contends that Strickland should be stripped of his right to vote in Columbiana County because he lives in Columbus. Strickland, who has a home and office in Lisbon, has voted regularly in Lisbon, which is part of his district. Candidates must be registered voters.
The complaint was filed by Long on Oct. 4 but the board didn't meet until Oct. 12. Lobb said the entire process in dealing with complaints is suppose to take no more than 10 days, noting that the board waited eight days just to meet on the matter.
The board split on four votes, but Lobb wrote, "There is law that clearly applies to each of the areas that seem to have confounded the board."
Republican board members Al Fricano and Jerry Ward had voted to combine state laws -- regarding residency for voting and residency for paying taxes -- for the purpose of the investigation. Lobb said the state law on voter residency was clear and sided with Bowersock and Democrat Dennis Johnson, who had opposed the move.
Fricano wanted a Pittsburgh attorney to be able to represent Long, although she is not licensed in Ohio. The board's lawyer, Nick Barborak, said the board should not be deciding who practices law in Ohio.
Lobb disagreed and said that election boards can allow attorneys not licensed in Ohio to take part in the hearing. He voted with Fricano and Ward.
Johnson made a motion to reject the complaint, which resulted in a split vote. Lobb voted in favor of the Republican board members, saying that the board had not investigated the claim.
Fricano had made a motion to block Johnson's motion. Lobb said that because he had decided the issues, the motion was moot.
Lobb ordered that the board have the hearing "promptly." But Barborak said he wasn't sure that Lobb could make such an order.
Lawrence W. Stacey II, a local lawyer, had subpoenaed Strickland and his wife, Frances, to testify before the board. Strickland's wife also is registered to vote in Lisbon and her residency has not been challenged.
Another subpoena went to Lisbon's income tax records for the Stricklands. The village solicitor, Scott Washam, notified the elections board that the tax records are confidential. Washam told the board to either cancel the subpoena or delay the hearing so he could file a court action to stop the release of the confidential records.