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Summit GOP, Lorain County Dems Sue After LaRose Bars BOE Appointments

Voters line up outside the Lorain County Board of Elections in 2020. [Jenny Hamel / ideastream]
Voters line up outside the Lorain County Board of Elections in 2020.

Summit County Republicans and Lorain County Democrats are suing after Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose blocked nominees to their local boards of elections.

In early March, LaRose stopped Bryan Williams, the Summit County GOP chairman, from serving another term on the county board of elections and put the BOE under administrative supervision. LaRose also halted the appointment of Sharon Sweda, a former Democratic county commissioner, to the Lorain County elections board.  

The executive committees of both county parties have gone separately to the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn LaRose’s decisions.

Summit County

On March 3, LaRose placed the Summit County Board of Elections under state oversight and prevented Williams’ reappointment, citing failures in removing dead voters from the rolls, an alleged “politically charged environment” and other management issues.

In a filing with the Ohio Supreme Court, the county GOP argued that Williams was fit to serve, saying the board had been proactive in addressing the issues LaRose cited.

The party’s attorneys also submitted an affidavit from Williams alleging LaRose’s move was “political retribution.” Williams had organized a fundraiser for a potential primary opponent as LaRose prepared his 2018 bid for secretary of state, according to the affadavit.

“The Secretary of State’s March 3rd Letter fails to allege any acts of personal misconduct by me,” Williams said in the affidavit. He alleged LaRose “harbors political animosity” after the two had butted heads over the years. 

In a court filing, attorneys with the Ohio Attorney General’s office, which is representing LaRose in his capacity as secretary of state, denied the affidavit’s allegations.

On Monday, the Ohio Supreme Court approved the Summit County GOP executive committee’s request to depose LaRose and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Amanda Grandjean. Those depositions are scheduled for March 26, according to an attorney for the executive committee.

Lorain County

Also on March 3, LaRose rejected the Lorain County Democratic Party executive committee’s appointment of former commissioner Sharon Sweda to the county board of elections.

In a letter explaining his decision, LaRose wrote Sweda appeared to have “used her Lorain County official email account in furtherance of her bid for re-election” and “may have directed subordinates to directly or indirectly campaign for her while on county time.”

The Elyria Chronicle Telegram reported in October 2020 that Sweda had used her county email address to discuss her campaign. She told the newspaper that she had replied to campaign-related emails quickly from her iPhone, without first making sure she had switched to a personal email account.

In its court challenge, the Lorain County Democratic Party’s executive committee included an affidavit from Sweda saying LaRose appeared to draw upon on allegations made by a former political opponent of Sweda’s – in particular, that she had directed subordinates to campaign for her.

“To date I have never been charged, convicted, or otherwise found in violation for misusing public resources or violating ‘Ohio Ethics and Campaign Laws’ by the Ohio Auditor or any other public official with jurisdiction to investigate or pursue such alleged violations,” Sweda said in the affidavit.

Sweda denied forcing subordinates to work for her campaign on county time, saying in the affidavit that two Lorain County Port Authority employees had helped her campaign while on furlough.

“They volunteered for my campaign on their own time and on their own volition – not because I ‘directed’ or in any way pressured them to,” she said in the affidavit.

In a response on behalf of LaRose’s office, attorneys for the Ohio Attorney General’s office wrote the secretary of state had received a 258-page packet “from a third party” containing Sweda’s emails. The attorneys argued LaRose’s decision was well within his authority.  

“Because the county boards of elections administer elections in Ohio, it is crucial that members of those boards be free from any lapses in judgment relating to campaigns and elections to be judged competent to serve,” attorneys for LaRose’s office wrote.

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