It’s official: Athens City Council member Pat McGee is back on the November ballot.
During an Athens County Board of Elections meeting on Monday, the four members of the board voted unanimously to return McGee to the November general election ballot. The Board of Elections (BOE) in mid-July ruled that McGee failed to provide enough valid voter signatures to run for re-election.
McGee filed a letter with the BOE contesting its decision to decline to certify his re-election petition not long after the initial decision. The letter included signed affidavits from seven Athens residents who had signed McGee’s petition in a printed style, and who the Board of Elections had said had signed his petition in a manner that did not match signatures on their voter-registration records.
McGee said Monday morning – not long after the conclusion of the meeting – that the BOE decided to certify his petition as valid because he acted “promptly” to provide affidavits showing he had enough valid signatures. He said he cited two Ohio Supreme Court cases that backed him up on this matter.
Debbie Quivey, director of the elections board, confirmed the results of the meeting early Wednesday afternoon. She said the BOE was provided an opinion from Assistant Athens County Prosecutor Zach Saunders stating that the board hadn’t done anything wrong in its decision not to certify McGee’s petition. However, because McGee provided signed affidavits, the board could hold a “reconsideration hearing” to reconsider its decision, which is what happened Monday, Quivey said.
McGee – who is running as an independent for a third term for an at-large Athens City Council seat – filed 103 signatures with his petition to be placed on the ballot earlier this year, but only 70 of those signatures were ruled valid, Quivey said in mid-July. McGee needed 77 valid signatures to get on the ballot, an issue that he said was remedied after providing the affidavits mentioned above.
“I think it’s going to be a really interesting election,” McGee said. “No doubt there some issues that are going to be brought before City Council that are really important for the citizens of Athens to get all sides, all of the viewpoints on those issues. That’s why I’m running.”
Saunders wrote in his opinion – provided to The NEWS – that while it was up to the elections board to decide whether it could hold the reconsideration hearing, he thought the board “should” hold the hearing.
“While it is not required for a board of elections to hold a reconsideration hearing on this matter, the Athens County BOE should hold a reconsideration hearing based upon the new evidence presented by Mr. McGee,” Saunders wrote. “The Ohio Secretary of State has issued a directive to the Board of Elections that goes to the heart of a reconsideration hearing of a candidate not certified. Under that directive, when a board of elections does not certify a candidate to the ballot based upon invalidity or insufficiency of one or more requirements of the petition process, the candidate may ask the board for a reconsideration hearing…
“While it is not mandatory for the Board of Elections to conduct such a reconsideration hearing, it would be wise based upon the evidence presented to the Board of Elections by Mr. McGee,” Saunders concluded.
ONE IMPORTANT THING to note is that Quivey previously told The NEWS that the BOE did not notify McGee of its initial decision to decline to certify his petition; she said that the board normally does not do that. If McGee had not been informed about that decision by a local news reporter, he might not have known until far later.
Elections Board Chair Kate McGuckin (a Democrat) clarified in a brief interview Tuesday that all political candidates receive an informational packet explaining how to file petitions and other information about elections, and those packets explain that it’s the “candidate’s responsibility to call the board to see if their petition was accepted or not,” she said.
Quivey said that while she couldn’t speak for the elections board’s members, she did not foresee the BOE changing its practices relating to the certification of petitions.
McGee said he had suggested to the Board that it change the language on the petition documents it gives to potential candidates.
“That’s something that the Ohio Supreme Court says in the case I cited… is that if you’re going to be telling people that they have to make the same mark or signatures, then you should say it on the petition so people know what they’re doing,” McGee said.
John Haseley, a Democratic member of the Athens County BOE, said Tuesday that the board cannot change the petition language directly. However, he did say the board is considering making a recommendation to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office asking that state office to consider changing the petition language to suggest people write out both their printed name and their signature.
McGuckin said a “liaison” from the Secretary of State’s office attended the meeting Monday, and she said she expects the issue to be broached with that agency.
“I think it’s in the best interest of the state to clarify this so that we don’t have this question hanging over petitions,” she said. “In the Supreme Court ruling, it did say this should be taken up by the Legislature and the Secretary of State.”
GARY GRANT OF NELSONVILLE filed a petition to get on the March 2016 ballot as a Democratic candidate for Athens County Commissioner, but was similarly prevented from being placed on the ballot by the Board of Elections after it found eight of the signatures on his petition were invalid because they were printed and did not match the cursive signatures on the voters’ registrations.
Grant said that in that case he was informed by the BOE of the invalidity of those signatures not long after its decision to not certify the petition. He said he requested a reconsideration hearing as well in his case, but was not granted one. He expressed displeasure at the difference in treatment he received in contrast to how McGee was treated.
“So, just because he (McGee) is an attorney, and he can cite case law, does that give him more preference than a non-attorney who doesn’t know a lot about case law?” Grant queried.