A pending decision about whether to appeal a federal judge’s decision in a disputed election could place Hamilton County taxpayers on the hook for legal fees in the case.
The case involves which provisional ballots to count in the Juvenile Court judicial race between Democrat Tracie Hunter and Republican John Williams from the November 2010 election.
Hunter lost by just 23 votes out of nearly 230,000 ballots cast. Some ballots weren’t counted, however, because although they were cast at the correct polling station, they were cast at the wrong precinct table, apparently due to poll worker error. Hunter then filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the board’s decision.
U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott ruled Feb. 8 that 286 provisional ballots should be counted in the race.
On Monday the Hamilton County Board of Elections split 2-2, along partisan lines, about whether to appeal Dlott’s ruling. Because there was a tie vote, the matter goes to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican who likely will side with his GOP colleagues on the board and order an appeal.
Like the Republicans on the county elections board, Husted has said state law, not a federal judge, should be the final authority on which ballots are counted.
“I am concerned about the continuing involvement of the federal court in prescribing which ballots should and should not be counted in a county judicial race in Ohio,” Husted said in January 2011. “As Ohio’s chief elections officer, I maintain that it is of utmost importance that we take this stand to preserve the authority of state law to govern state elections, as interpreted by the Ohio Supreme Court.”
But the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals already has upheld a ruling by Dlott in the case once before. The appellate court ruled in January 2011 that the board should determine how many ballots were cast due to poll worker error.
The three-judge panel said not counting ballots that were miscast through no fault of the voter would be "fundamentally unfair." Still, it looks like the board will try its luck with the 6th Circuit once again.
It’s routine in cases like this for the victor — plaintiff Tracie Hunter, in this instance — to ask the court to order the defendant to pay legal costs. Although the exact amount of legal fees incurred to date wasn’t immediately available, it’s believed to be in the range of $800,000 to $1.5 million.
If an appeal is pursued, the county could be at risk of paying much more. A lengthy appeal process could easily double what’s been spent so far, legal experts said.
The expense comes at a time when Hamilton County commissioners are cutting back sheriff's patrols and other county services to avoid a deficit.
Husted’s office hasn’t yet received formal notice of the board’s tie vote, a staffer said today. When it does, a legal review will be initiated.
“We will make a decision shortly thereafter,” said spokesman Matt McClellan. “We hope to make one soon.”
Interestingly, Dlott also commented in her ruling on the apparent unconstitutionality of Ohio law.
“Ohio’s precinct-based voting system that delegates to poll workers the duty to ensure that voters are directed to the correct precinct but which provides that provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct shall not be counted under any circumstance, even where the ballot is miscast due to poll-worker error, is fundamentally unfair and abrogates the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process of law,” the judge wrote.
Dlott said she was unable to order a remedy, however, because the original complaint wasn’t based on a due process claim and the plaintiff had failed to notify the Ohio Attorney General, as she were required to do if she intended to challenge the constitutionality of Ohio law.
Since then, though, the notice has been given. Conceivably, Dlott could rule on that issue in the not-too-distant future and order a remedy, namely declaring Ohio’s election laws unconstitutional and unenforceable.
A prominent Republican congressman is under investigation for insider trading. U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), who heads the House Financial Services Committee, is being probed by the Office of Congressional Ethics for making suspicious trades and buying certain stock options while helping oversee the nation’s banking and financial services industries.
Some U.S. progressives are supporting a move by Icelandic politicians to nominate alleged WikiLeaks collaborator Bradley Manning for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Manning was nominated for the prestigious prize by The Movement of Icelandic Parliament, a group of politicians in Iceland dedicated to empowering grassroots activism.
With 273 days remaining until the presidential election, some of our readers might already be getting sick of listening to the latest blather from the candidates. Still, a rather blistering analysis of President Obama’s recent actions at Politico is worth checking out. Maybe this line will pique your interest: “So much for the high road: Victory is more important than purity … He’s made a series of calculated, overtly political gestures that are far more transactional than transformational.”
Nearly 15 months after the disputed election, a federal judge ruled today that Hamilton County elections officials must count roughly 300 provisional ballots cast in a 2010 Juvenile Court judge race.
U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott said that the Board of Elections violated the voters’ constitutional rights when it decided to count some provisional ballots but discard others based solely on the location of where they were cast.
A state lawmaker from Cincinnati is asking U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to send federal election monitors here to ensure all provisional ballots cast in the November election are counted.
State Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Bond Hill) sent the letter this week. She stated that concerns about how provisional ballots were treated in the 2010 race for Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge prompted the letter, adding no significant progress has been made in dealing with the issue since that time.
Sensing he needs to make up for lost ground, Mitt Romney went on the offensive in Monday night’s Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Fla., hammering Newt Gingrich as an “influence peddler.” Occasionally appearing at a loss for words, the bombastic ex-Speaker of the House accused Romney of engaging in “trivial politics.”
Boys, boys: Settle down or I’m pulling the car over.
A group that supports preserving the historic Gamble House in Westwood is angry that Cincinnati building inspectors aren't enforcing the law at the property, which is allowing heavy rainfall to damage it while a court battle drags on about whether to save the mansion from demolition.
Bob Prokop, of Save the Historic Gamble Estate Now, said the city's inaction about securing the house contradicts what a building inspector told him would be done at the property in an email from last spring.
School officials in a suburb north of Cincinnati are being warned not to add creationism to their curriculum if they want to avoid a costly legal challenge.
So, just who did Jean Schmidt think was paying her mounting legal bills, anyhow?
That's the lingering question after the House Ethics Committee ruled today that Schmidt, a Republican congresswoman from Miami Township, did receive an “impermissible gift” by accepting about $500,000 in free legal help since spring 2009, but somehow didn't “knowingly” violate the law.