Canal Winchester Councilman Steve Donahue is protesting the Franklin County Board of Elections’ decision to disqualify him as a candidate in the Canal Winchester’s mayor race based on an error he made on petitions he filed with the board.
Donahue wants to know why, unlike himself, a candidate for Madison Township trustee was given a second chance to correct his petitions by the board of elections while he was not given the same opportunity.
"It has come to my attention that Mr. Ed Dildine, a candidate for Madison Township trustee, turned in a petition that was not valid. He was contacted by Deputy Director Mr. Dennis White, to resubmit a new petition," Donahue alleged in a letter to the Franklin County Board of Elections. "He was given a second chance. These actions have set precedence; therefore, all candidates that had problems with their petitions should be contacted and given a second chance to submit another petition."
In a telephone interview Sept. 5, White clarified recent changes in election law made by the Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner’s office regarding candidate petitions. He said the secretary ruled, regardless of time stamping of petitions, that a candidate could withdraw their petition(s) and then re-submit them provided the board of elections had not yet met, which he reported was the case with the Dildine documents.
White said changes were also made regarding write-in candidates. He said, in the past, a candidate could file as a write-in even after they filed candidacy petitions. However, that provision was removed.
"Since I am a (Madison) township trustee, I have an interest in the (trustee) race," said White. "Ed (Dildine) filed his petitions very early and someone told me his petition had a date error, which in the past would have been a fatal error. I called him and told him about the mistake. On his own, Ed decided to file as a write-in, but then I found out about the new directive, so I told him he couldn’t do that. With the changes by the Secretary of State, there was enough time for him to withdraw and then re-file. If I had known about the Canal Winchester mayor’s candidate, I would have let him know, too. Later, I talked with (Board of Elections Director) Matt Damschroder about the changes and then he issued an e-mail saying not to check the petitions, except for the usual things, until after the filing deadline. (The board of elections workers) don’t do a detailed check. That process happens in the petitions committee."
"I agreed with his directive because I think Matt was trying to level the playing field for everyone and it was a way to deal with the changes until we had a chance to study them," continued White. "Election law is very fluid and there are changes all the time. Not getting on the ballot can be very upsetting and I strongly recommend someone running for office consult an election law attorney."
Donahue was told the board of elections disqualified him because he failed to supply a signature for petitions he circulated on his own behalf. He said he submitted the documents on Aug. 13, 11 days prior to the Aug. 24 filing deadline and no one from the board of elections contacted him during this time period to let him know he needed to resubmit his petitions.
"When I turned my petitions in…I asked (the board of elections worker) to look them over and see if there were any problems. She looked over all of the five pages and told me they looked fine. She then instructed me to write a check for $30 to cover the filing fee," said Donahue.
"While talking with (the board of elections worker) (another board of elections worker) was working with a gentleman running for mayor of Obetz. I noticed she was counting the number of signatures on his petition so that there were no mistakes. When leaving, I asked if we were good to go and she said ‘yes’ and wished me good luck. (The board of elections worker I worked with) didn’t do that with my petitions. Shouldn’t this same opportunity be afforded to all candidates?"
Canal Winchester School Board candidate David Brobst told Donahue that (a board of elections worker) said she was able to look over Brobst’s petitions as long as they were not time-stamped at the board office.
"(The board of elections worker) reviewed them and pointed out I did not fill out a box," said Brobst. "She told me as long as they weren’t time stamped, they still belonged to me and corrections could be made. Once they were stamped, they belonged to the board. I did not ask for help. She gave it to me and I was glad for the help."
After his petitions were disqualified, Donahue said he contacted Damschroder toward the end of August and was told by the director to return to the board of elections and file as a write-in candidate. However, when Donahue arrived at the board of elections, he was told he was not allowed to file a second time. Donahue has appealed his disqualification and a hearing is scheduled for Sept. 10.
According to Damschroder, the hearing before the board-consisting of two Democrats and two Republicans-is a quasi-judicial situation where facts and evidence are presented and statements made supporting a candidate’s position in light of previous board action. Candidates can be represented by legal counsel and decisions are made during the hearing whether to uphold the previous decision or allow the individual back on the ballot.
Damschroder said he was aware of the allegations surrounding the Dildine petitions, but has not talked to White regarding the situation because White has been out of town on vacation.
"It seems to me that if one candidate is given a second chance, then all candidates should be given a second chance. Therefore, I am requesting that you rethink the harsh consequences of disqualification and give those public servants who have dedicated their careers to serving their community a fair shot at serving their public," Donahue informed the board of elections.
White advised candidates that, when filling out petitions, make a copy before filing them with the board of elections. That way, with the change in election law, if a candidate catches an error in time, it could mean the difference between running for election or watching from the sidelines.
Dildine could not be reached for comment.