| Akron Beacon Journal
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose is rejecting the reappointment of Summit County Board of Elections member Bryan Williams after discovering problems with the most recent election and voter rolls.
Williams is currently serving as GOP chair for the county and was recently interim chair for the state.
In a letter Wednesday to the board of elections, LaRose’s office says it may remove other members, as well as the director and deputy director, if the local agency doesn’t make the necessary changes to avoid a series of errors uncovered in recent months.
Those issues include leaving more than 700 deceased voter on the rolls in the 2020 presidential election, allegedly removing non-incarcerated felons who should have been allowed to vote, allowing traffic issues to discourage early voting and not informing employees that they can blow the whistle on harassment or violations of Ohio’s voting laws.
In a separate letter, LaRose’s deputy assistant and director of elections, Amanda Grandjean, is putting the local election board under administrative oversight for the “many” issues that have been discovered and others “that we are likely still unaware of.”
LaRose said his duty “to administer free and fair elections in our state” includes measuring the competency of the people nominated by the county parties to run local election offices, which are the backbone of the state’s decentralized election system.
The secretary of state appoints two Democrats and two Republicans to boards in each county to run elections.
“‘Competence’ to serve involves qualities beyond intelligence, integrity, and dedication to professionally performing one’s duty,” said LaRose, attaching a footnote to Ohio Supreme Court case law. “It also includes the basic ability to get along with co-workers and inspire confidence in the election system.”
The decision was not partisan nor influenced by party politics, said LaRose, a Republican and Summit County native. Had the other Republican and two Democrats on the board asked for reappointment, they all would have been rejected.
“Finally, I want you to know that the recommendation that you made as Chairman of the Summit County Republican Party, along with your committee, is not being singled out by this action,” LaRose said. “Today, I am also rejecting recommendations from four other county political parties, both Republican and Democratic, where I determined that the recommendation was insufficient. As you know, the Summit County Democratic Party did not submit the current member for reappointment. If they had, that recommendation too would have been rejected.
“Further, I will not hesitate to initiate the removal of the two Board members whose terms end in 2023, prior to that date, if I determine that it is in the best interest of the voters of Summit County.The executive committee of the Summit County Republican Party now has until March 12 to nominate someone other than Williams.
If no replacement is named, LaRose said he would select someone for the job.
Williams did not answer his phone when the Beacon Journal called on Wednesday seeking comment.
Williams was among five board of elections nominees with appointments rejected by LaRose across the state. Summit County’s was the only of the 88 election boards placed on administrative oversight.
In addition, the state oversight designation requires biweekly reporting and regular meetings to ensure the Summit County Board of Elections implements and improves processes to safeguard the integrity of elections and provide staff with workplace free of harassment and politicking.
LaRose and Grandjean referenced a deceased voter’s ballot that counted in 2020 because a Republican employee mismanaged a database of death records. The Democrat who was supposed to but didn’t check the Republican’s work, and vice versa, may have been illegally purging convicted felon who’ve served their time. Together, the errors showed a lack of bipartisanship required in each step of running elections.
Whistleblower complaints, including one sent to LaRose in early December, “describe a pattern of political quid pro quo spanning many years,” the Ohio secretary of state said. The board adopted an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy in 2004 but never informed employees that it existed. In discovering that, Summit County Board of Elections Director Lance Reed, who took over in August, found that the agency also lacked an approved process by which employees could report election law violations.
The board also failed, according to LaRose and Grandjean, to adequately prepare for the high volume of early balloting that many counties witnessed during the pandemic.
Williams, who was briefly named chair of the Ohio Republican Party after Jane Timken stepped down to run for U.S. senate, was director of the Summit County Board of Elections from 2004 to 2010 before taking a position to lobby for the construction industry in Columbus. He’s the current chair of the Summit GOP and, prior to 2004, served four terms in the Ohio House.
Williams joined the board of elections as an appointed member in 2014. His four-year term ended last year.
Other board members include Bill Rich, a University of Akron professor and an officer in the county Democratic Party, and Ray Weber, a treasurer for the Summit County GOP. Tom Bevan, the chair of the Summit County Democratic Party, chose not to seek reappointment at the end of 2020. His post will be filled by Marco Sommerville, whose appointment was approved Wednesday by LaRose.
Reach reporter Doug Livingston at [email protected] or 330-996-3792.