Home City Athens BOE apologizes to Dem challenger for “human error,” O’Neill doesn’t accept

Athens BOE apologizes to Dem challenger for “human error,” O’Neill doesn’t accept

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Democratic Ohio House candidate Katie O’Neill did not accept the formal apology offered by the Athens County Board of Elections (BOE) on Tuesday, saying it was insincere.

The BOE met to reveal the findings of an investigation into allegations by O’Neill regarding election fraud at a voting location in Albany, with the investigation concluding that no wrongdoing had been committed.

The Board voted unanimously Tuesday at an in-person special session to formally apologize to O’Neill. 

An investigation conducted by BOE Director Debbie Quivey found that orange signs telling voters ballots cast for O’Neill did not count were present at a voting location at Alexander High School, but were not placed maliciously.

John Haseley, a BOE board member and the Athens County Democratic Chair, apologized to O’Neill, who was not present.

“Each member of this board, Democrat and Republican alike, we’re all very sorry and regretful for what has happened,” Haseley said.

O’Neill, who was informed of the BOE’s findings by The New Political, said she had a hard time finding the apology sincere when neither she nor her lawyer, Louis Grube, were informed of the meeting.

“I don’t think they have shown this week their apology is genuine by the way they have treated me,” O’Neill said. “I am waiting for a genuine apology.”

O’Neill also expressed frustration that she was not given access to the investigation report before the media. The document was distributed to anyone who asked at the meeting.

Quivey said she used all proper channels to provide 24-hour notice for the special meeting and did not receive special instructions to contact O’Neill directly about the public meeting.

O’Neill, who lost in a landslide to incumbent Rep. Jay Edwards, alleged last week there were neon orange signs at the Alexander High School voting location that stated votes for her would not count.

The signs were originally produced for the March primary when O’Neill was ruled ineligible for the election due to issues regarding how long she had lived in the district, Quivey said. O’Neill won an Ohio Supreme Court case in April, after the primary, and was put back on the general election ballot.

Signs informing voters not to vote for other candidates, including former Democratic presidential primary candidate Cory Booker and Republican primary judicial candidate Scott Robe, accompanied the O’Neill signs, Quivey said.

Quivey said she had instructed voting locations to remove the signs from the polling booths, which were transported directly into storage after the primary. The investigation found signs at the Alexander High School voting location were not removed due to “unfortunate” human error. 

The signs were originally noticed around 9 a.m., and four of the five signs were removed, with the final sign discovered and removed around 1:45 p.m., Quivey said. The investigation report also contains signed affidavits from all other District 94 voting locations attesting there were no signs present at any other voting location.

According to Quivey’s investigation report, 883 voters potentially saw signs with incorrect information, although that number would be significantly lower because most signs were removed early in the morning.

Quivey said mathematically, the amount of voters impacted could not have affected the double-digit margin O’Neill lost by.

O’Neill said the signs should have never been produced, and described a “narrative” created against her by the BOE to characterize her as unqualified. The signs were produced and attached to the polling booths before O’Neill was restored to the ballot, Quivey said.

When asked how the presence of signs warning about other primary candidates — including candidates not on the general election ballot — implied there was a concerted effort against her, O’Neill declined to comment, but she added the other candidates “weren’t actively litigating the outcome at the time.”

On the phone with The New Political, O’Neill took a swipe at the Athens BOE leadership.

“I think we need new representation at the Board of Elections,” O’Neill said. “I believe that we need a greater level of inspection of our polling locations before the public arrives, and this is proof of that. The director of the Board of Elections is responsible for ensuring the voting locations are safe and secure — and she has failed to do that.”

Quivey told The New Political she had received calls after the incident from people alleging Edwards had bought her off because she was a Republican. Another individual reported her to the Ohio Secretary of State with allegations she said were significantly more severe than what actually occurred.

“I am an election official first, always have been, always will be,” Quivey said.

Maggie Sheehan, spokesperson for Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, said the office has “been made aware” of the incident, but she deferred further questions to Quivey.

Quivey told The New Political she was offended O’Neill would imply impropriety in the Athens County election process, and said she suspects Quivey’s Republican affiliation is why O’Neill is taking exception to her.

“I feel that is probably why she feels I need to be replaced,” Quivey said.

O’Neill did not comment on whether she would sue the Athens BOE and what for, or take other action, but added she and her lawyer have “three options.”

Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said he would represent the BOE in a potential lawsuit scenario. Quivey said the Ohio secretary of state chief legal council recommended the county prosecutor handle a potential case.

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