Mahoning Co. elections board adopts new policy


By David Skolnick

skolnick@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

At the insistence of the Ohio secretary of state, the Mahoning County Board of Elections adopted a policy that addresses how it handles elections.

This came after a mistake was made during last November’s general election that led to the double counting of more than 6,000 early-vote ballots.

Secretary of State Jon Husted required the board on Dec. 22 to submit a final report by Jan. 31 to his office addressing shortcomings in the handling of ballots and communication among staff, board members, media and the public. That came after his office read articles in The Vindicator about the double-count error.

The policy the board adopted Wednesday restricts access to locations where ballots are counted.

Among the changes are:

Follow a checklist to ensure vote tabulations are accurate.

Permit only one Democrat and one Republican in the tabulation room for counting of votes and scanning of curbside, late-absentee and voter-intent ballots.

Allow only two board members at a time in the vote-tabulation room.

Permit only minimal amount of talking when votes are being counted.

Restrict the number of observers at the board office near where the votes are counted. Instead of allowing multiple people who represent candidates and issues – called observers – in those locations, the board will follow state law and have one observer for each political party and for groups of at least five candidates or ballot issues.

The board’s director and deputy director will first provide voting results to the board of elections members for review before giving them to the public.

Train a county data processing staff member to learn how to use the board’s website to post results online in order to release them in a timely manner.

Select a board employee to get media contacts before election night and make sure all media has the correct final unofficial results on election night.

The problem occurred when Deputy Director Thomas McCabe failed to reset a scanner that had counted early-vote paper ballots before he inserted 18 ballots that were voted curbside at polling locations.

That resulted in 6,179 early-vote ballots being counted twice on the “final unofficial” report the board ran and distributed to the media and public election night.

The mistake was detected about 10 to 15 minutes later and an “amended final” report was issued, but election officials failed to contact the media and others about the error.

The incorrect results, provided by the board, were published in The Vindicator the day after the election. A day later the newspaper printed the correct results.

“It was chaotic” on election night, board Director Joyce Kale-Pesta said. “The number of people in the room is a big distraction.”

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