The Delaware County Board of Elections on Tuesday invalidated 185 signatures for a referendum designed to reverse zoning approved earlier this year by Powell City Council to make way for a 47-unit condominium development at the site of the former Powder Room shooting range.
However, the measure still has more than enough valid signatures to qualify for the Nov. 3 ballot to be placed before voters.
The board voted unanimously to invalidate a part-petition circulated by David L. Tolley after it determined that he knowingly allowed Benjamin Hulshof to sign the document for his wife, Tammy Hulshof.
“To me it’s not possible to witness every signature if all the evidence shows a spouse signed for a spouse,” said board member Shawn Stevens.
Tolley, who was subpoenaed to testify at the hearing, repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when questioned by attorney Corey Columbo, who represented four city residents in the case.
Tolley and the Hulshofs were referred to the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office for further investigation into the alleged case of election falsification.
City residents Leonard Pivar, Patricia E. Kijewski, Gertrude Towbridge and Thomas Allen Ewers claimed that circulators of the part-petitions made several fatal errors that should prevented the ballot measure from being certified for the Nov. 3 election.
The group hoped to invalidate two part-petitions, Tolley’s and another circulated by Brian Ebersole, who has led the referendum effort. If successful, 404 signatures would have been invalidated, leaving the measure five signatures short of the 238 needed to qualify for the ballot.
Columbo argued that both Ebersole and Tolley added signature pages to their part-petitions, which he called a fatal flaw.
However, the board voted 3-1 to reject that grounds for protest, with Stevens casting the lone dissenting vote.
“I think adding pages to the petition was a mistake, but I don’t think it was unlawful,” said board member Ed Helvey.
The board also rejected the protests on the grounds that the ordinance approved by council was not attached to the part-petitions throughout the circulation process, which is not required by the city’s charter. Instead, the charter says that referendum petitions must include the name of the measure and the date of passage.
“It seems like the petitioners exceeded their calling,” said board member Bruce Burnworth.
A similar referendum to prevent a “high-density” development was ordered on the ballot last November by the Ohio Supreme Court after the board voted not to certify it for the ballot.
Dustin Ensinger can be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @EnsingerDG.