State places Miami County under immediate oversight after election error

State places Miami County under immediate oversight after election error
Miami County Board of Elections members spoke during a meeting. Shown from left are David Fisher, Audrey Gillespie and Rob Long. STAFF/STEVE BAKER

TROY — Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced Friday that his office is putting the Miami County Board of Elections on administrative oversight, effective immediately.

The move comes in the wake of disclosure that Miami County failed to count more than 6,200 ballots cast in the Nov. 6 general election. The board voted 3-1 this week to dismiss director Beverly Kendall.

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In a letter to the board chairman, Dave Fisher, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Amanda Grandjean said LaRose’s office would conduct weekly conference calls with the board and staff to oversee its operation, get status reports on election preparations, and provide guidance on daily operations. Participation in the calls will be mandatory, the letter said.

Fisher said the oversight order was not unexpected.

“It is welcomed at this point. We are without a director now. I think our staff is looking for some direction,” he said.

Fisher said the oversight should help with transparency.

“We are going to see where that office has been lacking. We will move forward to get the trust back from the voters,” he said.

LaRose’s office said it began investigating the issue when the new secretary of state took office last week.

“If there is reason to believe a law may have been broken, Secretary LaRose will refer those findings to the appropriate law enforcement agency,” said Jon Keeling, LaRose’s press secretary. “If at the conclusion of the investigation remedial action is necessary, the secretary will consider all appropriate options.”

In addition to the weekly calls, LaRose’s staff will make on-site visits to assist Board of Election staff review operations and create written policies and procedures to ensure proper administration of elections.

“The board and its office will continue to operate as independently as possible during this period of administrative oversight,” Grandjean said in the two-page letter.

The board discussed problems first identified by the Secretary of State's office on Dec. 20 while reviewing election results. The office said the vote total was not consistent with the county’s voter participation history and asked the elections office to check results.

Elections officials said the problem was with touch-screen machines used for early voting at the board office. The votes somehow did not get included in the tally.

The uncounted votes did not become public until this newspaper began asking questions a week ago.

Board member Ryan King said the new state oversight “will be a valuable service for us since we terminated our director.

“This assistance will help us assure our primary election goes smoothly with our staff situation at the moment,” King said.

He said he also will suggest to the board and Secretary of State’s office a delay in rolling out until after the May primary the new Clear Ballot voting system. The board voted Tuesday to buy the new system.

“I believe that with our staffing changes, utilizing a new voting system is too much to effectively accomplish in a short time frame,” said King.