Perhaps David Betras, chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, was counting on his knee-replacement surgery to win him brownie points.
Or, Betras may have thought that his generally good relationship with the press would ensure an understanding headline.
But when the member of the Mahoning County Board of Elections told this writer he would take responsibility for the Nov. 7 election night debacle, he simply confirmed he’s now part of the problem.
What problem? A dysfunctional board of elections that’s in desperate need of house cleaning.
No, this isn’t the opinion of a cynical columnist who has the reputation – unjustified, of course – of disliking public employees.
It’s the view expressed by none other than Betras five years ago when he was appointed to the four-member board of elections.
That’s why his reaction to the election night vote-counting controversy came as such a surprise.
To be sure, Betras had a knee replaced just days before the general election and was dealing with some post-surgery complications. He was hobbled when he showed up at the board of elections office to oversee the counting of the ballots.
The three other members of the board are Democrat Robert Wasko and Republicans Mark Munroe, the chairman, and Tracey Winbush. Munroe also is chairman of the county Republican Party.
The director of the board of elections is Joyce Kale-Pesta, a Democrat; the deputy director is Thomas McCabe, a Republican.
Checks and balances
Party affiliation is meant to be the foundation of the system of checks and balances.
The public expects that a major hiccup in the conduct of an election will trigger a critique of the performance of the staff.
But the day after the election, when officials ultimately admitted that 6,000 or so early-vote ballots had been counted twice, thereby tainting the vote tallies released the night of Nov. 7, Democrats and Republicans circled the wagons.
Betras’ instinct to take responsibility for the board’s failure to notify the press of the error suggests he has been brainwashed.
McCabe admitted making the tabulation mistake, but it was Kale-Pesta who ultimately was responsible for the revised vote tallies not being publicized until the next day.
In other words, the decision to shrug off the wrong count as no big deal because the outcome of the races in Mahoning County did not change is exactly the attitude Betras railed against in 2012 when he was appointed to the board by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.
The Democratic Party chairman had talked about the unholy alliance between Democrats and Republicans on the board and the politically unhealthy relationship among staffers.
He pledged to push for a working environment based on the principle of “trust, but verify.”
In seeking the seat, Betras, a lawyer, insisted the taxpayers of Mahoning County should get their money’s worth from the employees. He won points with this writer when he made it clear that requiring full-time workers to put in a full day’s work – eight hours – would be his priority.
He also expressed concern about the long-standing practice of hiring full-time employees on the basis of political affiliation rather than qualifications.
The Democratic Party chairman agreed with The Vindicator, which has long called for a detailed review of the payroll so taxpayers can determine which “relatives” are working, how they got their jobs and what qualifications they possess to assist in the conduct of elections.
It’s important to recall that Secretary of State Husted at first refused to appoint Betras to the board on the grounds that he wasn’t competent to serve.
At issue was Betras’ role as treasurer of now disgraced former state Attorney General Marc Dann’s transition team.
The Vindicator strongly supported the Democratic chairman and urged Husted to change his mind. He did.
Betras, who has led the county party since 2009, made it clear that one of his priorities would be to restore the credibility of politics in the county after numerous incidents of government corruption. He also voiced concern about the operation of the board of elections because of various missteps by elections officials.
Thus, Betras’ reaction to the Nov. 7 general election debacle stands in sharp contrast to his gung-ho attitude in 2012 when he promised high quality service to the public.
Thus the question: When Betras told this writer he would take responsibility for the revised vote count being kept under wraps until Nov. 8, did he really believe there would be no ramifications?
As the editorial today points out, the secretary of state will get to the bottom of what went wrong.
He has instructed the board of elections to conduct an internal review and to discuss the findings with his staff.
Betras now has the chance to prove he hasn’t become a captive of incompetence by pushing for a top-to-bottom evaluation of the operation, procedures and staff of the board of elections.
On the other hand, if the chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party is, indeed, responsible for the election-night debacle, he should consider resigning.