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Errors in hand count prolong county recount

YOUNGSTOWN — The official results of the Mahoning County commissioner’s race won’t be known until Tuesday though incumbent Democrat Carol Rimedio-Righetti, who is currently ahead by 137 votes, is expected to win.

The Mahoning County Board of Elections conducted a recount Wednesday, but the first hand count of 20 precincts randomly chosen resulted in incorrect totals in six of them, said Tom McCabe, its director.

“Machines are more accurate than a hand count,” he said. “If you rely on people to count, you could get human error.”

Because Rimedio-Righetti’s win over Republican Geno DiFabio was 0.16 of 1 percent after all the ballots were counted, an automatic recount was required. State law requires boards of elections to conduct automatic recounts if the margin of victory is within 0.5 of 1 percent.

The board is required to count at least 5 percent of its precincts.

The board on Nov. 28, when it certified the election results, randomly picked polling locations that equal about 8 percent of those who voted in the last election.

During the first Wednesday hand count, there were three votes off in each of the two Smith Township locations selected — with one having three too many votes and the other having three fewer votes so that problem was discovered, McCabe said.

In four other precincts, the count was off by one vote, he said.

Because of that, board employees had to do two other hand counts of those 20 precincts under state law, McCabe said. Both of those hand counts matched what the board’s machines tallied in those precincts, he said.

However if any of the hand counts are incorrect, the board is required to put all of the ballots in the race — 85,001 in this case — into the optical scanners to read the results.

That will take three days — today, Friday and Monday — with the board reconvening at 9 a.m. Tuesday to get the official vote and certify it.

It’s the first countywide recount in Mahoning in several years, McCabe said.

The recount totals certified Nov. 28 by the board were 42,569 for Rimedio-Righetti and 42,432 for DiFabio.

Rimedio-Righetti, who is seeking her fourth four-year term, is ahead by 137 votes, which McCabe said is too much for DiFabio, a first-time candidate, to overcome.

DiFabio said he was still hopeful of a win.

DiFabio said he was concerned about potential influence Rimedio-Righetti has over the county, saying it’s a problem how “county employees are treated if they support someone other than the incumbent. It’s a terrible black eye on the county. It’s a terrible black eye on officeholders that use that over the county workers’ heads.”

Asked if he believed the election system was rigged, DiFabio said: “I wouldn’t say rigged, but I would say it’s the system when the incumbent can get the officeholders whose budget they control to support them. That’s kind of unfair. That should be wrong.”

DiFabio said Rimedio-Righetti “hired most of the people in this building, most of the people in the county. If you see what happens to you if you don’t support the incumbent that’s hard for a challenger to overcome.”

In response, Rimedio-Righetti said: “That is absurd. Let’s not even go there. That is absurd, absolutely absurd. No one puts pressure on anything. This board is independent of the Mahoning County commissioners. They’re their own board, governed by the secretary of state. What we’re doing here is due process. This innuendo, propaganda, lies is just absurd.”

She added: “I feel confident (I’ll win), but we’re still in the process. I’m going to wait and see.”

McCabe, who is also the county Republican Party chairman, disagreed with DiFabio, the party’s candidate for commissioner, saying: “The board of elections is independent of the commissioners. It’s the only county department, besides the judges, who can sue the commissioners so pressure cannot be applied to us. Zero pressure has been put on this office by the commissioners.”

Before outstanding absentee and provisional ballots were included in the final count Nov. 28, Rimedio-Righetti was ahead 41,996 to 41,792. The 204 votes was a 0.24 of a percent margin of victory.

When those uncounted votes were added, the race got even tighter with Rimedio-Righetti up by 137 votes.

dskolnick@vindy.com

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