Democrats on the elections board said the state acted without hearing their side.
By D.A. WILKINSON
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
LISBON -- U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland and fellow Democrats on the Columbiana County elections board said his gubernatorial rival, Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, and his staff are playing with election rules.
Strickland won a temporary stay Monday when the 7th District Court of Appeals ordered that the elections board not have a hearing on his residency. The hearing had been set for today.
Strickland then filed a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court, saying that Blackwell was singling him out politically. The lawsuit says the treatment comes because he's running against Blackwell.
The challenge to Strickland's residency could in theory knock him out of the race against Blackwell. Candidates must be registered voters.
Strickland and Larry Bowersock, the chairman of the county elections board, and board member Dennis Johnson said Blackwell and his staff are not following election law.
"They're not following their own rules," Bowersock said.
Strickland voted last week in Lisbon, where he has voted for several years in the North Precinct. Jacquelyn Sue Long of East Liverpool, however, says Strickland lives in Columbus, where he has a home.
When Long made the complaint, the board had 10 days to hear it. That included a three-day period to notify Strickland. The hearing was set for Oct. 14, but it was canceled.
Bowersock said it was canceled at the direction of Myke Clarett, a field representative for Blackwell, not the elections board.
Bowersock also said the secretary of state's office ruled on the case without information from Democrats or the election board and before the deadline to submit information.
The board had split on party lines Oct. 12 to allow a lawyer unlicensed to practice in Ohio to help Long, to combine state tax law with voter registration law during the residency hearing, and to dismiss the case.
Bowersock said board members had 14 days to submit their information to Blackwell. The Republican board members, Alfred Fricano and Jerry Ward, submitted information. But Monty Lobb, assistant secretary of state, ruled on Oct. 17 before receiving the material from the Democrats, Bowersock said.
Reason for objection
Lobb's ruling allows lawyers unlicensed in Ohio to take part in the hearing, but he ruled against combining the various sections of law. Lobb also ruled the board had to hold the residency hearing immediately. A fourth issue was dismissed.
"The secretary of state's office ruled before we could get information back to them. I didn't think that was fair," Bowersock said.
Cassandra Hicks, general counsel for the secretary of state, raised the idea of having an emergency hearing despite the three-day notification requirement.
Bowersock had John Payne, a Democrat and deputy elections director, ask Hicks for the state law that would allow an emergency hearing.
But Nick Barborak, the assistant county prosecutor who advises the board of elections, said any plan to fast-track the hearing was moot. Barborak said that on Monday he told the elections board not to have the second scheduled hearing.
Barborak said state law required the hearing be held within 10 days, and those 10 days have past.
Bowersock said, "Everything we did was in accordance with the law."
Officials at the secretary of state's office could not be reached late Monday.