The Delaware County Board of Elections stood by its original decision, certifying the Harlem Township Referendum on Tuesday to the November ballot on the grounds that the protester’s argument did not hold merit.
“Our argument to you today is that all part-petitions that were not stapled as required by the board’s policy must be invalidated,” said Corey Colombo, attorney for Norma McCann and James Wheeler, protesters of the referendum.
The Delaware County Board of Elections had adopted a local rule that petitions for candidates must be attached with staples when submitted to the board, but the board had no such rule in place for referendum petitions.
Steve Cuckler, a member of the board, said the board has a policy and that the individual sheets were affixed, but “it didn’t necessarily conform (with the board’s) policy.”
“One of the frustrations we have here at the board of elections is the law in some cases is clear and in some cases, it is not,” he said. “The law itself, in my opinion, is gray, murky and not clear. It does not give local boards like ourselves clear cut fill out these forms, check these boxes and you’re good to go. Likewise, the Supreme Court with its history here in Ohio has given us a smattering of different decisions. Policies are overruled or the law is not enforced because you don’t have a policy. I would like to encourage the Supreme Court to establish a framework or a test for local boards of elections to evaluate these types of petitions to mandate a specific clear direction. Ultimately, that needs to be codified as law.”
Colombo also contested that there were two circulator statements, violating the state’s one circulator policy, and the part-petition was signed by the circulator before completing the count of signatures.
Curt Sybert, attorney for the petitioners, contended that all the part-petitions complied with Ohio Revised Code 519.12 (H) in that the petition had a map, the zoning number must be correct, must have a brief summary, notice of election falsification and a circulator statement. The circulator must witness each signature in person, and the circulator must complete the paperwork and sign it. He also argued that there was no case law in what manner the documents were to be affixed or attached.
Herman “Judge” Berk Jr. testified as a circulator, “I went out to every house. Before I had people sign it, I showed them the petition and the things we had, then I showed them this layout of (proposed development) of the land. I made sure they were a voter, and then I had them sign the petition.”
Berk testified that the clipboard he used contained flyers that were mailed out and put on mailboxes, the layout of the property and map of the area.
However, Berk asked Bonnie “Susi” Perry, one of the organizers for the petition, to check his math on the signature count. Together, in the presence of each other, they double checked the signature count before filling in the number on the part-petition.
Colombo contended that Berk signed the paperwork before filling in the signature count. His argument is that a signature testifies the paperwork has been completed, and the signature should be the last thing done on the form.
“We thought the board made the right decision early on,” Sybert said. “You got to be an engineer to fill these forms out now. The reality is it’s a real technicality. They were splitting hairs.”
Now that the petition will stay on the ballot, Brittany Bower, one of the organizers, said all that is left is to campaign.
As for the issue behind the referendum, Jim Gehring and Jeff Barr are proposing to build a 500-unit, self-serve kiosk storage facility on a 13-acre property along Francher Road. The referendum will give Harlem Township voters the opportunity to overturn the decision made by trustees to rezone the property from agricultural to a planned commercial and office district, which allows for the storage facility to be built on the land.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.