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Strickland case points questions at Blackwell



Published: Tue, October 24, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The elections board is meet today to vote on dismissing the challenge.

By D.A. WILKINSON

VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU

LISBON -- The expected end of a residency challenge to Democrat gubernatorial front runner U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland leaves unanswered questions about how Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, his Republican opponent, handled the case.

Jacquelyn Sue Long of East Liverpool had her lawyer, Lawrence W. Stacey II, tell the Columbiana County Elections Board on Tuesday that she wanted to withdraw her complaint. She gave no reason for her decision, and Stacey did not return a call for comment.

Long had contended that Strickland did not live in Lisbon, where he has voted for three years. Strickland voted by absentee ballot last week. Candidates must be registered voters.

The election board plans to meet later Wednesday to vote on Long's request.

John Payne, elections board deputy director, said he hoped it would end the case. He and director Lois Gall have been trying to train poll workers who will conduct the election on Nov. 7 while dealing with the complaint.

Strickland's spokesman, Keith Dailey, said Strickland was pleased "the frivolous challenge was withdrawn."

Dailey added the secretary of state's office should be run in a nonpartisan manner and that Strickland endorsed everyone's right to vote and protect their vote.

Before the announcement, Dr. William Binning, the chairman of Youngstown State University's political science department, said the case raised questions, such as the secretary of state's role when he is the opponent of the person being challenged.

But Binning said the only way voters might care was if Strickland was forced off the ballot.

National media outlets, including USA Today and salon.com have derided Blackwell's political activities.

"I don't think the public is taking this seriously. I don't think they even care about it," Binning said.

Strickland had filed cases with the 7th District Court of Appeals and in U.S. District Court to block the complaint.

The elections board had set a second hearing for today but it was postponed by the appeals court.

Nick Barborak, an assistant Columbiana County prosecutor, ordered the hearing to be canceled on the grounds that state law gives the elections board only 10 days to investigate, take testimony at a hearing, and make a decision.

The first hearing was called off by Myke Clarett, a field representative for Blackwell, which in part prompted Democrats on the county election board to say that Blackwell's office wasn't playing by the rules.

James Lee, a spokesman for Blackwell's office, said Clarett acted for the secretary's office and not on his own when he canceled the first hearing. Lee could not explain why the prosecutor's office said the hearing had to be held in 10 days, and the state believed otherwise.

Board members were asked to submit information on their votes. But Democrats said before they submitted their information to Blackwell, his office acted and issued a ruling after only hearing from the Republican board members.

Lee said that Monte Lobb, the assistant secretary of state, had the right to make a decision.

Cassandra Hicks, the general counsel for Blackwell, asked county elections officials about speeding up the second hearing, which the county did not think should occur. Lee said the secretary's office wanted the board to follow the law.

Also on Tuesday, retired Ohio Supreme Court Justice Francis Sweeney and 11th District Court of Appeals Judge Judith Christley were appointed to hear the case.

7th District Judges Cheryl Waite, Mary DeGennaro and Gene Donofrio recused themselves. Judge Joseph Vukovich was to stay on the case.

The federal case was assigned to Judge James Gwin. But he was taking comments through today on whether he should hear the case because his wife contributed her own money to Strickland's campaign this fall.

wilkinson@vindy.com




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