“No merit” was the determination of the Delaware County Board of Elections in a challenge of right to vote filed against former Liberty Township Trustee Tom Mitchell, Ph.D. The board voted unanimously to reject the challenge brought by Kelley Lilly, of Powell, against the former trustee.
Lilly, who lives up the street from Mitchell’s home, filed the paperwork challenging the former trustee’s residence status and right to vote in Delaware County with the board of elections July 30.
“I stand by my challenge, and I’m disappointed in the members of the board of elections,” Lilly said in brief phone interview with The Gazette on Tuesday.
Lilly sent an email to Board of Elections Director Karla Herron stating she would be unable to attend Tuesday’s proceedings in her challenge of Mitchell’s right to vote in the county.
“She is not withdrawing her complaint or her issue over residency, but we would rest on the documents that she provided us,” said Ed Helvey, board chairman. “This is a first for us. I will say that the burden is on the challenger to go forward on this.”
Helvey turned to Delaware County Assistant Prosecutor Chris Betts who cited Ohio Revised Code and case law from the Ohio Attorney General in 2002 that “no one individual may have more than one voting residence at a time.”
“The most common is revised code 3503.02(a) which most people on this board can probably recite from memory, which says the place that shall be considered residence of a person in which the person’s habitation is fixed and to which whenever the person is absent and the person has the intention of returning,” he said. “That is the most general rule of residency.”
“The rules provide the voter with a choice of residency so long as that choice meets one of those rules of residency,” Betts added.
Board member Steve Cuckler said he finds it “disappointing” when someone files a challenge but “does not show” for the hearing.
“We can look at the information that was presented on its face and then we can make a determination and move on,” he said.
Peg Watkins, a member of the board, asked if there was any concern that Mitchell had voted in any other precinct in Ohio to which Herron said he had not.
“As far as we know, he voted in one location and there’s no concern there is duplicate voting,” Watkins said.
Helvey turned the floor over to Mitchell who said he had a few comments. He said that the house at 4426 Metler Court, Powell, has been he and his family’s permanent residence since 2008. His family included, at the time he moved into the house, his wife, two sons, father and mother-in-law.
Mitchell said there is nothing in the complaint that he really needed to justify. He said the house is not empty as Lilly contends, but they had gotten rid of a lot of their belongings which he found to be very cathartic.
“We’re empty nesting,” he said. “I will give a brief explanation as to why we got the place downtown. I feel that I don’t need to, I do not feel that I’m required to, but I think it will help the board.”
He said living downtown near The Ohio State University campus was an experiment to see if it was a good fit for he and his wife, Ellen, and their three dogs.
“How would this work? So we decided to do that for a few months. It’s no different than having a summer home, a vacation home, no different if I went on sabbatical for a year. Liberty Township is still my permanent residence,” he said. “In February, my wife was diagnosed with stage four cancer. She goes to the James. She went through six months and just finished chemotherapy.”
Mitchell said with the dogs and taking care of his wife, he needed to travel to and from work several times a day and “coming from Liberty Township is not a good option for all that.” He said that since his wife is finished with chemotherapy, they have found someone who would like to assume the lease of the condo.
“Our intent is to move back (to the home in Liberty Township) probably within the next two weeks,” he said. “We did the downtown urban living, and our house did not sell. Spending money on two homes is not cheap or is it fiscally wise, but we did learn it might be an area we might want to move to in the future.”
Mitchell said what he has done before or after being a Liberty Township trustee “has zero bearing in my opinion on my ability to vote in this township. With that, I would like to rest my case.”
Cuckler said he believed that the challenge had no merit and made a motion to reject it, to which the board voted unanimously to do so.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.