Beacon Journal Editorial Board
In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Summit County is under the microscope.
Donald Trump and some of his supporters are known for the Big Lie — that the presidential election was stolen. Those of us who agree Trump lost the election also tend to agree that elections officials are doing their best at the local level. Widespread voter fraud is a myth.
But a “vote from the grave,” as happened last fall in Summit County, is unacceptable. And a board of elections investigation revealing that 700 deceased Summit County voters were still registered to vote is alarming.
We agree with Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s move to reject the reappointment of Bryan Williams to the Summit board and place the board under administrative oversight.
Despite Williams’ lengthy service, or perhaps because of it, it’s time for change at the board. Williams was director of the Summit County Board of Elections from 2004 to 2010 and was serving as an appointed member last year, when some of the board’s worst blunders occurred.
The scrutiny doesn’t stop with Williams. LaRose’s office threatens to remove other board members, the director and deputy director if meaningful procedural changes aren’t made.
Besides the issue of deceased voters on the rolls, LaRose’s office alleges non-incarcerated felons who should have been allowed to vote were cut, traffic issues discouraged early voting and employees were not informed that they can blow the whistle on harassment or violations of Ohio’s voting laws.
The board must play by the rules to ensure election integrity. Voting rights must be protected for all. And taxpayer dollars must not be wasted. Yet the secretary of state’s office and an anonymous whistleblower are casting doubt on the board’s ability to meet these demands.
The Summit County Sheriff’s Office is looking into who may have cast a ballot in the name of a Sagamore Hills woman who died four months previously. The incident provoked a review showing shortcomings in how deceased voters are removed from rolls.
Lapses such as these can shake the public’s confidence in the American voting system.
Further, the secretary of state’s office says the board may have violated state law by canceling the registrations of convicted felons who are now eligible to vote. If true, this calls into question the competence and fairness of the board and its employees.
LaRose emphasizes that Democrats, too, are at fault. And in discussing Williams’ reappointment, LaRose cautions that no one who’s had a hand in board management “in recent years” is acceptable.
Williams likely was there during the years when “a pattern of political quid pro quo” took place as described in a whistleblower complaint sent to LaRose in December. The system of partisanship in county boards is meant to ensure that Republicans and Democrats are checking each other’s work; it should not be abused.
Claims that partisans are wasting taxpayer dollars by doing party work on the clock must be investigated further, with those responsible shown the door.
The office must ensure employees are trained about their whistleblower rights regarding voters and employees.
County Board of Elections Director Lance Reed, who took over in August, has found that the board lacked an approved process by which employees can report election law violations. Reed is no newcomer to politics, having previously worked at the board of elections for a few years and formerly serving as the county Republican Party’s executive director. But in this new role, Reed would benefit from the board’s oversight.
Summit County officials cannot shoulder all of the blame for possible voter suppression. Failures to manage traffic on Grant Street may rest with the local board, but it’s LaRose who wrongly decided counties could only have one drop box each. After judges ruled LaRose does have the authority to allow multiple drop boxes, it was too late for counties to change.
All counties in Ohio faced multiple challenges in 2020. Ultimately, it is up to local officials to work together and find the best solutions; some fared better than others. In Summit County, avoidable problems and long lines resulted.
There’s zero evidence any of these issues changed the outcome of any elections. But the best way to make sure these issues don’t grow into future election-altering problems is to take strong action now.
Summit County taxpayers should rest easier knowing that change will be coming as the board is forced to work under administrative oversight.