Katie O'Neill

Katie O’Neill inside The Athens Messenger newsroom for an interview. Photo by Ben Peters.

Democrat Katie O’Neill, a candidate in the race for the 94th district seat in the Ohio House of Representatives this year, again threatened pursuing litigation against the Athens County Board of Elections in response to an Election Day incident where misleading signage was wrongfully posted at a polling location in opposition to her candidacy.

O’Neill, who initially alleged The Board of Elections committed “election fraud” in failing to remove the signage, gave no timetable for when a lawsuit might be filed, if ever.

“I do not have a specific time limit now that I have the evidence. I do not feel comfortable doing anything on the matter while Trump is acting so recklessly towards our democracy and governance,” she said in a text message in reference to President Donald Trump’s mostly fruitless attempts to overturn the results of the election in court.

“I hope to ensure this kind of interference from the Athens Board of Elections never happens again. The next election is in a year, so I have time,” she said.

O’Neill did not immediately respond to a follow-up request asking if she intends to run for another public office in Athens County next year.

Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said in an interview he hasn’t talked to O’Neill about the matter, and only spoke with her attorney, Louis Grube, weeks ago about a number of since-completed public records requests Grube submitted concerning the signage debacle.

Blackburn, who’s responsible for representing the Board of Elections in court, declined to comment directly on O’Neill’s legal threats.

Board of Elections Director Debbie Quivey, who maintained that nothing about the Election Day incident was illegal, previously said that she is personally unaware of any election law that could have been broken as a result of the misplaced signage.

It was proven through an investigation conducted by Quivey that five neon orange signs were posted for hours at the Alexander Wellness Center polling location in Albany that incorrectly told voters that ballots cast for O’Neill wouldn’t be counted.

The signs were remnants from before the primary where O’Neill was thought to be ineligible to run before the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that she was permitted to receive votes.

Four were removed around 9 a.m., more than two hours after the polls opened, after an election official noticed them, according to a handwritten affidavit signed by nearly 20 poll workers in Alexander. The remaining sign wasn’t removed until around 2 p.m. when a voter questioned an official about it.

Quivey’s investigation corroborated through dozens of affidavits signed by poll workers that the episode in Alexander was an isolated incident of human error that wasn’t replicated at any other voting locations across the county.

Nearly 900 voters cast ballots in Alexander before 2 p.m., Quivey said, but not all of them saw the signs since most were removed earlier in the morning. She determined through her investigation that the misplaced signs couldn’t have possibly swung the results of the election, which O’Neill lost in a more than 20-point landslide.

To make matters worse, O’Neill was livid after not being notified by county leaders about the public meeting where Quivey discussed the findings of her investigation. She said didn’t learn of the event until after the fact when asked for comment by media. O’Neill was also furious she was not provided with a copy of the investigation, a public record, before news organizations were.

Quivey said Board of Elections protocol only required her to contact news media about the event. She also invited a select few officials, like Blackburn, who had been integral to the investigation process.

The Board of Elections sent O’Neill a formal apology for the incident in an attempt to compensate for the damage done to her campaign. The apology letter, which incorrectly stated the name of the seat O’Neill ran for, arrived in her email inbox days after Quivey detailed her investigation.

O’Neill and The Board of Elections have maintained a fraught relationship practically since she moved to the region in recent years in hopes of unseating incumbent Republican Rep. Jay Edwards in the 94th Ohio House District.

She was originally disqualified from the ballot in February when the Board of Elections voted to remove her after a Nelsonville resident filed a protest alleging that she wasn’t a resident of the House district for at least a year prior to the general election.

In response, O’Neill filed a lawsuit weeks before the originally scheduled March 17 date of Ohio’s primary election against the Board of Elections in the Supreme Court of Ohio, challenging the board’s decision to remove her from the ballot.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-1 in April that O’Neill was improperly kept off the ballot, writing in its majority opinion that the Board of Elections “abused its discretion” and in some cases “clearly disregarded applicable law” by rejecting her petition to run for office.

In the past, The Board of Elections has removed other candidates from the ballot, only for them to be restored after contesting the ruling.

In 2019, The Board of Elections claimed former Athens City Councilmember Pat McGee failed to submit enough valid signatures on his petition to run for re-election. McGee, an attorney, filed a letter the following day contesting the board’s decision to remove him from the ballot, citing court cases and providing affidavits from Athens residents who signed his petition to run as evidence he was wrongfully removed.

Weeks later, the Board of Elections voted unanimously to restore him on the ballot.

The Board of Elections also didn’t notify McGee of its initial decision to decline his petition, which McGee may have never been informed of had he not been asked by local media, The NEWS previously reported.

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