Mahoning elections board must be honest about mess


When the Mahoning County Board of Elections meets to discuss the operational failure in the November general election, the public will expect a genuine act of contrition.

Any attempt to diminish the vote tabulation debacle will be met with harsh criticism. After all, trust and credibility are the foundation of elections.

On the night of Nov. 7, the Mahoning County elections board brought unwelcomed attention to itself when it publicly reported the wrong vote count.

The inaccuracy of the original tally stemmed from the fact that more than 6,000 early-vote ballots were counted twice. The final but unofficial results were, therefore, skewed.

The updated count was released Nov. 8 – after The Vindicator and other media outlets had reported the wrong numbers.

Is this much ado about nothing? Not according to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who has instructed the board of elections to address the evident shortcomings in the handling of ballots and communication among staff, board members, the media and the public.

The four members of the board, Republicans Mark Munroe and Tracey Winbush and Democrats Atty. David Betras and Robert Wasko, were scheduled to meet today to review the updated policies developed by Director Joyce Kale-Pesta and her staff. The policies will be adopted at a subsequent meeting this month.

The secretary of state has asked the board to submit by month’s end a final report with the new policies it has adopted.

Husted, who is in this year’s contest for the Republican nomination for governor as Attorney General Mike DeWine’s running mate, has laid out criteria Mahoning County must incorporate in its new policies. They include:

The names of designated staff responsible for scanning ballots and tabulating results and the names of individuals authorized to be in the room where the ballots are scanned, processed or tabulated.

The method by which ballots are separated and tabulated by type to ensure traditional, absentee and provisional ballots are reported accurately.

On-site training for the proper method of tabulating results before the next election involving all staff involved in the tabulation process.

A checklist that provides detailed steps to properly and accurately process, scan and tabulate ballots and what steps are taken to analyze unofficial results before results.

PROCEDURES OF ELECTIONS QUESTIONED

As Munroe, the board chairman, Winbush, Betras and Wasko meet to develop new ways of doing things, we have to wonder why Husted’s recommendations aren’t standard operating procedure already.

Is the conduct of elections in Mahoning County so haphazard and undisciplined that a wrong vote tally is simply viewed as a mistake that can happen?

We ask the question because many members of the staff have been around for a long time and should know the system inside and out.

It is, therefore, troubling that Deputy Director Thomas McCabe made the tabulation error Nov. 7 and no one at the board thought to notify this newspaper and other media.

The absence of any sense of urgency to ensure that the correct vote totals were made public speaks to a systemic problem that won’t be addressed merely with new policies.

The Vindicator published the wrong totals in its Nov. 8 edition. Nearly a full page was dedicated to the ballots that featured the complete but unofficial count.

The newspaper was forced to publish an amended version Nov. 9.

We have called for a top-to-bottom review of the staff because employment at the board of elections is based more on politics than qualifications and knowledge.

The Republican and Democratic members of the board decide who will be hired as full-time employees and who will fill the part-time positions that open up during elections.

We have long urged the chairmen of the Democratic and Republican parties to seek out the best and brightest employees by adopting a formal hiring process. Not surprisingly, we’ve been ignored.

That’s why the failure of the board to conduct a trouble-free election has become such a point of contention for us. When a public entity that exists for one purpose alone fails to deliver without any drama, the issue of competence cannot be ignored.

This is a defining moment for the Mahoning County Board of Elections.

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