Given the less-than-stellar per- formance of the Mahoning County Board of Elections over the years, the allegation that absentee ballots in last Tuesday’s primary election were improperly handled by an employee or employees demands an independent investigation.
An internal probe, even in conjunction with the county sheriff’s department, is unacceptable.
The reason is plain to see: One of the questions that must be answered is, “How far up the staff ladder does the blame for the potentially illegal act go?”
If this were the first time questions have been raised about the conduct of the employees of the board of elections, we would not be concerned. However, through the years, the office has attracted the attention of the Ohio secretary of state and even law enforcement agencies. Such was the case in 2009 when there was a major foul-up regarding the ballot language for the half-percent county sales tax renewal. And while there were no criminal charges filed, two employees, Danielle O’Neill, a deputy clerk, and Director Thomas McCabe were placed on unpaid administrative leave.
In the latest incident, which also reportedly involves O’Neill, a candidate for an at-large council seat in Struthers delivered at least 35 absentee ballots to the elections board in violation of state elections law. Danny Morgan, who lost his council bid, is reportedly being investigated by the elections board and the sheriff’s department.
However, seeing as how O’Neill is allegedly involved in an issue that has been referred to the secretary of state’s office, we believe the best course of action is for the board of elections to withdraw and seek the assistance of the Ohio Attorney General’s office.
There is a credibility problem that cannot be ignored. At the very least, this incident confirms what we have long believed: the Mahoning County Board of Elections is, at the very least, incompetent.
Voter data base
Just last month, Secretary of State Jon Husted, in an effort to maintain an accurate voter data base statewide so as to reduce voter fraud, issued a report comparing records of deceased Ohioans maintained by the state health department with the records of active voters in the 88 counties. The report revealed a total of 18,460 matches.
Mahoning County had the unfortunate distinction of having the second largest number of dead people on its voter rolls. The first was Hamilton County with 1,637, then came Mahoning with 1,498 and third was Franklin with 1,177.
What is especially troubling is that Mahoning County ranks 11th in terms of population.
Given this record, the investigation into the absentee ballots must also focus on the hiring practices of the elections board and whether employees are trained for specific assignments. Boards of elections are political entities in which the two major parties have an equal say.
In Mahoning County, the director, McCabe, is a Republican; the deputy director, Joyce Kale-Pesta, is a Democrat.