Miami County Board of Elections members fired Director Beverly Kendall on Tuesday night hours after saying they wanted a thorough investigation into a November election mistake in which 6,288 early votes were not counted.
Members voted 3-1 for Kendall’s firing, with Dave Fisher, Audrey Gillespie and Rob Long in favor and saying the problem “falls directly on the shoulders of the director.”
“I’ve lost confidence in the board and the staff,” said Fisher, the board chairman.
Member Ryan King voted against the termination and said he preferred a transition plan.
“This failure by the Miami County Board of Elections is unacceptable,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said. “Ohioans deserve better and that’s why I’ve already launched an investigation to uncover exactly how it occurred and recommend steps so it doesn’t happen again. My goal is to ensure Ohioans in every county have the greatest confidence that each and every vote is counted.”
The board discussed problems first identified by the Secretary of State’s Office on Dec. 20 while reviewing election results. The office said the vote total was not consistent with the county’s voter participation history and asked the elections office to check results.
Fisher said checks of results showed the uncounted votes did not affect election outcomes.
Kendall has been director since summer 2015. She previously worked in the office 17 years.
Board members were asked by a member of the public if they would resign. None said they would.
“We have to trust our staff,” Fisher said, adding that his opinion could change following an investigation of what all occurred.
“We need to have fresh eyes on this … We need an outside investigation,” Fisher said before Kendall was fired.
”We need to make sure this can never happen again,” Gillespie said.
About 15 members of the public attended the meeting, including Jack Bastian of Piqua.
“I think it is atrocious in this day and age of technology we have an election system that failed,” Bastian said.
King said it would be better to call it a review of processes and procedures rather than an investigation.
“There was no intent or fraud. I am very comfortable saying that,” King said.
He said the problem with counting absentee votes was known early Election Night when the board was told touch-screen machines used in election office for early voting had not been shut down properly.
“The problem we weren’t aware of the rest of the evening was: ultimately, the correction was not correct,” King said.
Long said election staff, including Kendall, were repeatedly asked if all votes were counted, and he and others were assured they were. Everyone found out later that wasn’t the case.
“I want to assure voters all votes in the future will be counted,” Long said.
He suggested a review by the Secretary of State’s Office, while others suggested a review by another election board/staff. Fisher said Butler County’s Board of Elections said it would provide a proposal for the work. The board tabled that topic for more information.
Board members noted that staff made a number of checks of the votes before certifying results Nov. 26, and the uncounted votes went unnoticed.
The uncounted votes were reported to Fisher on Dec. 21. The problem did not become public until a Dayton Daily News report Saturday.
The board Tuesday voted to approve corrected certified election results. It also voted 3-0 to buy a paper ballot system from Clear Ballot versus a hybrid system with touch-screen machines.
The board had planned to meet in a special session Thursday to discuss the election results, voting equipment and personnel but instead continued the agenda because one of four members — King — was out of town and couldn’t attend.
After the error was found, efforts were made to identify what happened, including in discussions with equipment vendor Dominion Voting. A recording provided by election officials of a telephone meeting with election officials and Dominion representatives earlier this month included discussions about the early votes from touch-screen machines used in the elections office not being included when equipment did not pull all of the vote total data.
A Dominion representative said the transfer required two steps, but only one was taken. Fisher said a counting issue was recognized Election Night but a Dominion representative and an elections employee assured the problem had been corrected.
“The ball was dropped all the way around,” Fisher said on the recording.
The board also voted Tuesday to seek a refund from Dominion for $4,300 paid for Election Night support.
Bastian, one of the residents who attended the meeting, questioned why a Dominion representative was not at the meeting.
The elections precinct voting detail report for Nov. 6 posted on the board of elections web site dated Nov. 26 shows the vote for each race and issue by Election Day polling numbers and absentee votes.
The absentee votes are broken down into TS (touch screen) and OS (optical scan). The TS column lists zeroes throughout the report. The optical scan lists numbers for ballots counted from voters living in those precincts. The touch screen machines were used for the in-office early voting, while the optical scan was used for paper ballots distributed for absentee voting.
The amended certified report approved Tuesday includes numbers where the zeroes were in the Nov. 26 report. The amended report obtained from the elections office is dated Dec. 28.