State official to decide eligibility of candidate for state rep in Valley
YOUNGSTOWN — The Mahoning County Board of Elections deadlocked 2-2 along party lines on a protest against the eligibility of Greg Beight, an independent candidate for the 59th Ohio House District seat.
Frank LaRose, the Ohio secretary of state, will have to break the tie. Beight will remain on the Nov. 8 ballot until a decision is rendered.
The board voted three times Monday after a protest hearing against Beight’s candidacy with Chairman David Betras and Joyce Kale-Pesta, the two Democrats, voting to remove him from the Nov. 8 ballot, and Sandra Barger and Bob Aurandt, the two Republicans, rejecting the complaint.
Betras said LaRose recommends election boards vote three times if there are ties before asking him to break them.
Katie Fabian of Comanche Trail in Youngstown, a Democrat, filed the protest pointing to Beight voting in Republican primaries since 2018, including the one on May 3.
Beight didn’t vote in the Aug. 2 primary that included four Democrats seeking that party’s nomination for the state House seat. There are no Republicans running for the position.
Beight’s voting record, particularly the May 3 vote in the Republican primary, was the focus of the protest, though Fabian also mentioned Beight sharing a number of tweets from Republicans on his Twitter account and a $250 contribution in March to Monica Blasdel, a Republican running for a different state House seat.
“When you look at all the factors, it leads you to believe he’s not disaffiliated,” said Corey Grimm, Fabian’s attorney.
Grimm said of Beight: “He saw an opportunity and jumped at it” even though he’s a Republican and not an independent.
Beight said Blasdel is a cousin, and that’s why he contributed to her campaign. He explained the shared tweets were in support of the businesses mentioned by the Republican politicians and not the actual politicians.
Beight also said he didn’t know he’d run for office when he voted in the May 3 primary and he considers that and the Aug. 2 primary as two different primaries.
“I had no intention of running for office when I voted in the first primary,” he said. “I decided in July to run. I voted Republican in the primary because there were more contested races.”
Independent candidates are typically considered unaffiliated from a political party if they don’t vote in primaries after declaring their independence and if they aren’t officeholders in a party, though there are other circumstances that can lead to a candidate not being considered an independent and not qualifying for an election.
Under Ohio law, a voter affiliates with a political party by voting in that party’s primary election.
Betras said he voted to remove Beight from the ballot because a federal court determined May 3 and Aug. 2 were one primary.
“I know only the Legislature can make dates for a primary and (Beight) voted in the last primary so it’s clear” he’s not eligible, he said.
Aurandt said he voted against the protest because “there is no definitive reason to vote yes.”
Barger said, “I believe there was a second primary and he did not vote in it.”
Beight said the tie vote puts his campaign “in limbo.”
Asked if he would file a lawsuit with the Ohio Supreme Court to get reinstated if LaRose rules against him, Beight said, “I don’t know. Probably not. You’re kind of out of time. It’s almost September and the idea of running a campaign this late” is an issue.
The board voted Aug. 22 not to certify Poland Township Trustee Eric Ungaro, who also is seeking the state House seat as an independent, as a candidate largely because his campaign website includes at least 15 photos with the Democratic Party brand.
The board voted 3-1 that Ungaro didn’t disaffiliate himself from the Democratic Party on a second vote after an initial 2-2 vote. Kale-Pesta changed her vote against Ungaro during the second vote.
Ungaro said the photos are from January 2018, when he ran as a Democrat for the state House and he’s since disaffiliated himself from the party. He filed a lawsuit Thursday in Ohio Supreme Court seeking reinstatement.
Aurandt, who voted last week not to certify Ungaro, said Monday that the question of that candidacy “should have gone to the secretary of state. I’m not saying I regret (my vote). I voted on the information I had at the moment.”
Youngstown 5th Ward Councilwoman Lauren McNally won the four-person Democratic primary on Aug. 2. If Ungaro isn’t reinstated by the Supreme Court and LaRose rules against Beight, McNally’s only opponent in the Nov. 8 general election would be Cecil Monroe of Youngstown.
Monroe, who has run unsuccessfully for numerous elected positions, largely as a write-in, filed by Monday’s deadline as a write-in candidate.
Ungaro’s lawsuit read, in part, that the board’s goal “is for the Democratic candidate to appear as the sole name” on the ballot.
Also Monday, Brian M. Ames of Randolph Township in Portage County filed a lawsuit against the board of elections, claiming it violated the state’s open meetings law four times when it improperly had executive sessions, including the Aug. 22 meeting in which it discussed Ungaro’s eligibility.
The three other times, according to Ames’ lawsuit, were Sept. 7, 2021, Feb. 12 and April 14.
“None of the four executive sessions were held for a subject matter specifically excepted by law,” the lawsuit reads.
Ames is seeking $2,000 — a $500 civil forfeiture for each violation.
Ames has filed similiar lawsuits in other parts of northeast Ohio. This is his first in Mahoning County.
He’s got outstanding lawsuits against five Trumbull County governmental agencies — Fowler, Champion, Kinsman and Johnston townships and the city of Hubbard.
The Ohio Supreme Court is considering an appeal by Ames to a case involving open meeting violations by Rootstown Township in Portage County and whether he should be paid for a single or multiple $500 fines for each violation.
Ames is seeking $500 per violation of open meetings law.