Suspended Montgomery County Election Leaders Meet For Hearing
There’s no word yet on what will happen to the two Democratic members of the Montgomery County Board of Elections who faced a hearing at the Ohio Secretary of State’s office this morning. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles has the latest in the fight to get in person, early voting on the weekends.
About 60 protestors gathered outside the Ohio Secretary of State’s office Monday morning to show support for Tom Ritchie and Dennis Lieberman, the two Democratic members of the Montgomery County Board of elections. They were suspended by Secretary of State Jon Husted late Friday and ordered to appear in a hearing at his office for scheduling weekend voting hours after Husted had issued a directive specifying uniform hours for in person, early voting in all of Ohio’s 88 counties. Dennis Lieberman, one of the suspended members, joked with the crowd.
"Together we have over 27 years of experience on the board of elections. Neither one of us have ever been fired before so this is kind of a unique experience," says Lieberman.
Tom Ritchie said, regardless of the hearings outcome, he’s happy with his decision to allow weekend voting hours in his county.
" I feel that I’ve done the right thing for the voters of Montgomery County," says Ritchie. "I come here this morning with an open mind and a free heart and a good conscience, knowing that I’ve done the right thing and all I want to do is make sure that we’ve done what we did in 2008 and that is to give the people the right to vote."
Inside the hearing room, an attorney for Secretary of State Husted, argued Ritchie and Lieberman were totally out of line in granting weekend voting hours. Rich Coglinese said the directive issued by Husted made it clear that all boards of elections were to have uniform hours.
"The Secretary of State in this case can no more allow Democratic members of the Montgomery County Board of Elections to add hours and days to early voting than he could to allow to allow the Republican members to limit the hours off of his directive," says Coglinese.
Coglinese argued Lieberman and Ritchie were knowingly defying the order and therefore should be fired. But Don McTigue, attorney for the two men, said the directive didn’t specifically say there was to be no weekend voting.
"It was a rushed directive, not written tightly, open to fair interpretation that allowed the Democratic board members to move to follow the directive and at the same time allow expanded hours on the weekends," says McTigue.
The hearing officer in this case said he wants to take the matter under advisement and promises to issue a ruling later this week. In the meantime, groups that want weekend voting opportunities continue to rally support for the cause.
Diedra Reese with the Ohio AFLCIO says there’s one thing state leaders need to understand. She says a lot of people don’t want to cast an early absentee ballot by mail. They like to go to the polls.
'There are other people who actually do want to and physically engage," says Reese. " You shouldn’t take that right away from them . You shouldn’t tell me, oh, well, you are a first shift worker….too bad….sorry for you."