State election investigators will be in Miami County today

Ohio Secretary of State representatives will be in Miami County today to investigate how more than 6,200 early votes went uncounted in the Nov. 6 election.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose ordered the review of the uncounted votes.

“This failure by the Miami County Board of Elections is unacceptable. 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,” LaRose said. “My goal is to ensure Ohioans in every county have the greatest confidence that each and every vote is counted.”

Elections board Chairman Dave Fisher said he agreed with LaRose’s statement. Fisher also said a review showed the uncounted votes did not affect the outcome of any races.

ExploreMORE: Election board fires director after 6,200 ballots weren’t counted

The elections board Tuesday night called for an investigation and fired elections Director Beverly Kendall, a longtime employee.

Kendall declined comment.

Board member Rob Long, who made the motion to terminate her, said the failure to ensure an accurate count “falls directly on the shoulders of the director.” The board, he said, needed to take “decisive action to restore faith” in the elections office.

Board member Ryan King voted against the firing, saying he preferred a director transition plan versus immediate firing.

Fisher suggested Tuesday an investigation by another county whose election officials were familiar with the touch-screen voting system in use in the county. He wanted to hire Butler County election representatives to investigate.

Long said he thought the Secretary of State’s Office, which governs elections, was the appropriate party.

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A special board meeting to discuss options was canceled after Fisher said he was advised by the Secretary of State that the Butler County option could not be used.

“There is going to be an investigation one way or another,” Fisher said.

The investigation has been initiated, Jon Keeling, LaRose communications director, said Wednesday.

”Once we feel we have all the necessary information, Secretary LaRose will make a full report and recommendations for next steps so we can make sure such a failure does not happen again in Miami County, or any county,” Keeling said.

Kendall is a Republican, so party leadership will be asked to take steps to fill the position, John “Bud” O’Brien, county Republican chairman, said.

“Bev Kendall was a dedicated employee of the board of elections for over 15 years, and I thank her for her service to our citizens. Her dismissal last night is the first step into what I believe will be many at the board of elections to ensure this type of situation never happens again,” said O’Brien.

O’Brien said he wanted LaRose’s office to investigate and said he will ask county commissioners for a performance audit conducted by Ohio’s Auditor Keith Faber’s office.

Russell Wheeler, the county Democratic Party chairman, said the board “did what they had to do to hold her accountable” in terminating Kendall.

“I agree with the need for a complete investigation and audit not only by the secretary of state, but also with an audit of all of the practices and procedures by the members of the Butler County Board of Elections,” Wheeler said.

County Commissioner Jack Evans said he was disappointed to learn about the uncounted votes.

“There is such a problem in this country anymore with trying to tear down the integrity of voting, and that’s too bad. That is the basis of our system,” said Evans. “If we can’t get good elections, we’ve got a problem.”

County Commissioner Greg Simmons said he and his wife cast early votes.

“When I went home to tell her our vote didn’t count, she was somewhat appalled, as was I,” Simmons said. “I can’t believe in this day and age that we take the time to really look at the issues and then to find out your vote didn’t count is quite disappointing to me.”

Simmons said the board members need to also accept responsibility.

The uncounted votes were found after the Secretary of State’s Office notified the elections office Dec. 20 about concerns with vote totals not matching the county’s election history.

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 the vote total data.

A Dominion representative said the transfer required three 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 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.

An 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.

King said Wednesday he withdrew his application for a county commission seat. The new commissioner is scheduled to be selected Thursday night.

“With the issue at hand at the board of elections and specifically the actions taken last evening, there is a lot that needs done,” King said. “I’m going to concentrate my efforts on the board of elections at this time. With an audit, new voting equipment, and staffing issues, this is where my service is best spent right now.”

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