By Nancy Molnar
CANTON: A state official alerted the Stark County Board of Elections in July about flawed ballot language in a Lake Township police levy that was approved in November but successfully challenged in court.
Gretchen Quinn, elections counsel for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, pinpointed the error in the statement about the cost of the levy that caused Common Pleas Judge John G. Haas to void the election results Wednesday.
“(B)allot language states tax will be levied ‘at a rate not exceeding four and one-half (4.50) mills per dollar of taxable valuation, which amounts to forty-five cents per one thousand dollars in taxable valuation.
“A 4.5 mill levy yields $0.45 per $100, but $4.50 per $1,000,’’ she continued in a handwritten note. “BOE may want to confirm millage with taxing authority.”
The July 27 communication to an election board employee included approved ballot language reflecting the correct cost.
What happened after that is in dispute.
Jeffrey Matthews, deputy director of the county board of elections, said an elections worker said she told township attorney Charles D. Hall III about the problem over the phone.
“That did not happen,” Hall said Monday.
He said township officials first learned of the matter when Uniontown police Chief Harold Britt went to the board of elections to get a list of township voters. The information then was relayed to township Fiscal Officer Ben Sommers on Oct. 13. Sommers then told Hall.
But by then absentee ballots already had been mailed and others had been prepared.
Hall said local elections officials missed the chance to attach the memo from the Secretary of State’s Office on Aug. 25, when Stark elections Director Jeannette Mullane sent the township a notice saying the police levy would be Issue 6 on the Nov. 8 ballot.
The letter, received at the township office Aug. 26, says in part, “You will receive a copy of the ballot language once it is approved by the Ohio Secretary of State.”
“If that attachment had been delivered to the Board of Lake Township Trustees on Aug. 25, the Lake Township Board of Trustees would still have had the opportunity to correct the ballot language,” Hall said.
Matthews acknowledged the mistake in the ballot wording should have been communicated to the township in writing.
“It’s clear there were errors made in procedure, but ultimately what was submitted to the voters matched the resolution that was passed by the township trustees,” Matthews said.
A similar mistake recently occurred in ballot language Hall submitted to the Board of Elections for Perry Township, where he serves as law director.
The resolution to put the issue in the March primary election said the 0.5-mill police renewal levy would cost 50 cents for each $100 of property valuation.
Matthews and Mullane sent a letter to Hall on Dec. 21, telling him, “One-half mill should be five cents for each one hundred dollars of valuation.”
Hall said he fixed the error promptly, as he would have done if notified in a timely manner of the problem in Lake.
Lake Township trustees are appealing to the Ohio Supreme Court the ruling that negated the results of the November police levy vote. The county Board of Elections decided Monday not to join the appeal.
The ballot issue expanded the territory and taxing authority of the former Uniontown Police Department to all parts of Lake Township not served by the Hartville Police Department.
Judge Haas’ order has been stayed by Stark County Common Pleas Judge Frank Forchione, and Lake Township police cruisers are still patrolling the newly created district.