Katie O’Neill listens during a hearing before the Athens County Board of Elections in January 2019 on a protest against her candidacy for the 94th Ohio House District. Photo by Conor Morris.

A Nelsonville woman who wants to run against Ohio State Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, in the November election filed suit Friday last week against the Athens County Board of Elections in the Ohio Supreme Court, challenging the board’s decision last month to remove her from the ballot.

Former Democrat candidate Katie O’Neill in the lawsuit said she’s seeking a writ of mandamus (court order) directing the local Board of Elections to declare that she’s an eligible candidate for the Democratic nomination for the Ohio House 94th District race at the March 17 Primary election (coming up next Tuesday). No one else is running for that seat in the Democratic Primary.

The NEWS reported in early February that the elections board’s governing body (composed of two Democrats and two Republicans) voted 4-0 to disqualify O’Neill from the ballot, after a Nelsonville resident filed a protest over her candidacy in early January.

That protest alleged that she wasn’t a resident of the Ohio House’s 94th District for at least one year prior to the Nov. 3, 2020 election.

Kate McGuckin, chair of the elections board (a Democrat), said in a statement Monday that the board stands by its decision.

“Based on written evidence submitted to the Board, we found Ms. O’Neill was not a permanent resident of Athens County one year prior to the Nov. 3, 2020 general election as required by law,” McGuckin said. “Nor was Ms. O’Neill a qualified elector in the 94th District when she circulated and submitted her petitions as required by law.”

John Haseley, the Board of Elections’ other Democrat and chair of the Athens County Democratic Party, has said that the board found that O’Neill’s declaration of candidacy was “invalid” because she signed that document prior to becoming a registered voter in the district in which she hoped to run.

McGuckin added Monday that the election board’s assertion that O’Neill wasn’t a resident of Nelsonville for one year prior to the election was based on “a notarized statement from her landlord that stated she did not receive the keys to the (Nelsonville) rental until she paid her deposit on Nov. 4, 2019.”

O’Neill began having people sign her petitions to run for office in November 2019 despite not registering to vote at her Nelsonville address until Dec. 3, 2019, The NEWS previously reported.

In the suit, O’Neill reiterated that she had signed a lease to live at her Nelsonville home as of Nov. 1, 2019 (and provided a copy of that lease), and argued that she was a “qualified elector” under Ohio law otherwise. She also related that she circulated petitions for her candidacy after she registered to vote in Athens County on Dec. 3, receiving more than the required 50 signatures after that point.

“O’Neill has met all eligibility requirements to be a candidate for the democratic nomination for Ohio House District 94, and possesses a clear legal right to have votes for her counted as votes for an eligible candidate during the official canvas,” the suit reads.

IN A NEWS RELEASE ISSUED over the weekend, O’Neill argued that the Ohio Republican Party bankrolled the effort to keep her off the petition. The person who filed the petition, Keith Allen Monk, is a registered Democrat voter living in Nelsonville, according to the lawsuit.

“Prior to filing the residency challenge, the Republican Party hired a retired New Jersey State Highway Patrolman to investigate me,” she said in the release. “He is a large, menacing man that peered in my windows and harassed my neighbors. This is not the way we recruit the best people in our communities to work for us in our government.”

The NEWS previously reported that the protester was not present during the initial meeting on the protest of O’Neill’s candidacy. There was a Columbus-based attorney representing him, however (Donald C. Brey of the Columbus law firm Isaac Wiles). Brey also called as a witness local private investigator Stan Molnar, who said he staked out O’Neill’s residence in Nelsonville for about a week in late December and didn’t see her at the apartment.

O’Neill did not provide any direct evidence that the Ohio Republican Party was behind the protest when asked for further information on that allegation Monday.

She “got that impression,” O’Neill said, “when Rep. Jay Edwards, who is the House majority whip, was at the first (protest) hearing and protester Keith Allen Monk was not.”

Edwards previously told The NEWS that he attended that meeting to watch the proceedings, but said he didn’t have anything to do with the protest.

O'Neill's name will still appear on the primary ballot, but the BOE has stated on its website that "any votes cast for this person will NOT be counted.

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