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LaRose Places Summit County Board Of Elections Under State Oversight

Voters line up to cast ballots outside the Summit County Board of Elections in 2020. [Jon Nungesser / WKSU]
Voters line up to cast ballots outside the Summit County Board of Elections last year.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose this week placed the Summit County Board of Elections under administrative supervision and blocked the reappointment of one board member, citing failures in the 2020 election and prior years.

Those failures include errors in the removal of dead residents from the voter rolls. Over the last few months, the board has been investigating how it failed to catch – and then counted – a ballot cast in the name of one woman who died before the November election.

“The failure to cancel voter registrations for deceased voters enabled at least one instance of documented voter fraud,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Amanda Grandjean wrote in a letter to board officials this week. “This failure of oversight, which led to the error, likely occurred for years.”

The board also may have improperly canceled the registrations of voters convicted of felonies, the letter says. Ohio law prohibits voting by those serving prison sentences, but residents with felony records can vote after they are released.

County boards of elections must conduct all business in a bipartisan way, with Democratic and Republican staffers working in teams. But the Summit County board allowed employees of different parties to split up their duties – a breakdown in those bipartisan rules, according to the letter.

Grandjean’s letter mentions complaints to LaRose about a “politically charged environment” at the board, including “a pattern of political quid pro quo spanning many years.” Although the board adopted an anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy in 2004, it never distributed the policy to staff, according to the letter.

Additionally, LaRose’s office faulted the board for failing to manage traffic around the board headquarters as voters dropped off absentee ballots last fall.

LaRose will require Summit County BOE staff and a bipartisan pair of board members to attend biweekly calls with his office. The board also must develop new policies and conduct performance reviews of the director, deputy director and other full-time staff.

The board's membership is also changing on LaRose's watch.

LaRose blocked Republican member Bryan Williams from serving another term on the bipartisan, four-seat board. The Summit County GOP's executive committee has until March 12 to recommend a candidate to replace Williams, but LaRose said that nomination should not go to “any individual who has been involved in the management of the Summit County Board of Elections in recent years.”

In a letter to Williams, LaRose went on to say he would have blocked the reappointment of the Democratic member up for another term on the board this year, had the party chosen to renominate them.

“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,” LaRose wrote.

Williams and other board officials have not yet responded to ideastream’s requests for comment.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.