Secret ballot right is fundamental, Trumbull Chair Polivka says

By Peter H. Milliken


Trumbull County Democratic Party Chairman Dan Polivka reaffirmed Tuesday the casting of secret ballots by the county’s Democratic Central Committee, which is called for under the local committee’s bylaws.

The committee used secret ballots Saturday in the process of choosing Mauro Cantalamessa as interim county commissioner to replace Paul Heltzel, who recently died in office, for the remainder of this year.

The state and national Democratic Party bylaws require public votes.

Cantalamessa, who was chosen from among 10 candidates and later affirmed in a public voice vote, will be the Democratic candidate on the Nov. 4 ballot to complete Heltzel’s term, which ends in January 2017.

Saying no secret ballots are permissible, Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern said he’ll seek Polivka’s ouster as Trumbull County party chairman if he won’t conduct a re-vote.

“Division within the party is never productive,” said Polivka, a Trumbull County commissioner.

“However, the inherent right of a secret ballot and basic principles of American democracy, such as due process, can neither be denied nor abolished,” Polivka said.

“To Mr. Redfern: ‘Take your best shot ... I’m not going anywhere,’” Polivka added, calling Redfern “tyrannical and inflexible.”

Redfern said he immediately would suspend several privileges of the Trumbull party, including use of a sample ballot, an online system that tracks voting behavior and a discounted mailing permit.

Flanked by Trumbull Democratic Central Committee members, Polivka spoke at Women’s Park, which he said stands for the right to vote and the right to do so by secret ballot.

Polivka’s news conference was moved across the street at the last minute from the front lawn of the historic home of Harriet Taylor Upton, the early 20th century women’s suffrage advocate, because a large tree was being cut down on that lawn.

Atty. Jeff Goodman, local party parliamentarian for Saturday’s meeting, said Saturday’s vote fulfilled the local bylaws because early balloting was secret; and it fulfilled state and national party rules because the vote for Cantalamessa was publicly affirmed later by the committee.

Denying secret ballots “is a ploy to hold precinct committee men and women captive to the whims of the chair and party leadership ... and an intimidation tactic that will not be tolerated in Trumbull County as long as I’m Democratic chair,” Polivka said.

Diana Marchese, county recorder and a committee member, who attended the news conference, said she favors secret committee balloting because committee members would find it awkward to vote publicly in a 10-candidate race for the same office within a close-knit group.

She added that party members voted overwhelmingly Saturday to continue with secret ballots, which have been used by the local party for decades.

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