Anti-fracking backers question accuracy of vote count in Nov. 2014

By David Skolnick

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

By David Skolnick

skolnick@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Two supporters of a Youngstown anti-fracking charter amendment on the Nov. 3 ballot questioned the legitimacy of the results of the last time the proposal was on the ballot, losing by 15.4 percent.

The accusations drew a quick response from David Betras, vice chairman of the Mahoning County Board of Elections, who said: “You just basically accused this board of elections of election fraud. I can’t help it if some rinky-dink polling company did a poll for you and the results are different. This is just ridiculous. I’m not going to let you impugn the integrity of this board and our staff. I’ve got news for you: Mitt Romney’s poll said he’d win on Election Day [in 2012] and he didn’t. I find it highly offensive you’d accuse me of a crime.”

The Community Bill of Rights amendment had its largest defeat in the November 2014 election. Youngstown voters rejected it three other times: May and November 2013, and May 2014.

During Tuesday’s board meeting, Ray Beiersdorfer, a Youngstown State University geology professor, claimed there had to be something questionable about the November 2014 election results because a poll taken of voters by phone after the vote showed it won by 2.1 percent.

“That is such a big discrepancy that something wasn’t right,” he said. “I demand a public hand count of this issue so everyone can see the results,” he said.

Board Chairman Mark Munroe said Beiersdorfer could have asked for a recount, adding that he found “it offensive to suggest that this office did something illegal.”

Beiersdorfer responded by saying: “I didn’t accuse anyone of illegal behavior. I stated the facts. I made no accusations about anyone. I’m concerned about the machines.”

The poll taken of 675 Youngstown voters by telephone by Issues & Answers of Virginia Beach, Va., showed that 23.9 percent of people asked about their vote on the proposal refused to answer. Also, 5.6 percent of those polled said they didn’t vote on the issue. That left 476 people who gave an answer, with 245, or 36.3 percent, saying they voted yes, and 231, 34.2 percent, saying they voted no.

Randy Younkin of Youngstown, who said he paid $3,500 for the poll, was reached later by The Vindicator.

“It sounds like something went wrong in the counting process,” he said. “It’s our last great hope that our elections are fair, and it seems to have gone wrong on the local level. Something has run amok. I’m not accusing people of illegal activity, but something went wrong.”

The board of elections voted 4-0 on Aug. 26 to reject the anti-fracking proposal based on a Feb. 17 Ohio Supreme Court decision that the state constitution’s home-rule amendment doesn’t grant local governments the power to regulate oil and gas in their limits. Ohio law gives that authority to the state Department of Natural Resources, the court ruled in that case.

Youngstown filed a complaint in the state Supreme Court that the elections board overstepped its authority, and the court agreed in a Sept. 17 ruling. Though the charter amendment proposal already was on early-voting ballots, the board officially voted Tuesday to certify it.

Also Tuesday, a coalition of business, labor and political officials urged Youngstown voters to reject the charter amendment.

While members of the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and Investment said the proposal is unenforceable and unconstitutional, if voters approve it, it would lead to a court fight and impact jobs.

“The residents of the city are tired of hearing about this issue,” said Mayor John A. McNally, a coalition member. “I think if it passes, it would hurt jobs. It’s not just a ban on fracking, but it bans oil and gas drilling in the city, and the transport and sale of water used in fracking.”

Members of Frackfree Mahoning Valley, which backs the bill, said Youngstown residents have the right to determine if they want fracking and other oil and gas drilling in their city.