MIAMI COUNTY — In an effort to get their names on the November ballot, a number of petitioners protested the Miami County Board of Elections’ previous decisions invalidating their petitions for candidacy and made their arguments during the board’s meeting Tuesday evening.
Piqua Ward 3 Commissioner Joe Wilson, who was being represented by attorney Mike Gutmann during the meeting, claimed that a clerk at the board’s office gave him the wrong advice, preventing him from properly signing his petition to be placed on the ballot for reelection to the Piqua City Commission.
The board rejected Wilson’s petition due to Wilson leaving the circulator’s statement on the petition blank. The Piqua City Charter also requires that ballot petitions be notarized, and Wilson’s petition was not notarized.
According to Gutmann, the clerk “told him you do not have to do that anymore.” Wilson said that he took that to believe he did not have to have the petition notarized or the circulator statement signed.
“I was relying on the expertise of the clerk,” Wilson said.
Gutmann added, “Her saying, ‘it’s not required anymore,’ he didn’t have a chance to sign it.”
Board chairman Dave Fisher asked Wilson if anything had occurred during his time on the Piqua City Commission that would lead Wilson to believe that the city charter had changed. Wilson said sometimes state laws will supersede local charters.
“I assumed if she told me something, it was correct,” Wilson said, referencing the clerk. Wilson and Gutmann had attempted to obtain an affidavit from the clerk whom they claimed gave Wilson that information, but they said they were having a difficult time doing so due personal issues in the clerk’s life. Wilson still urged the board to speak with that clerk.
The board agreed that while they did not know what the clerk said, the rules required strict compliance in regard to Wilson’s missing signature on the petition.
“The burden is still on you,” board member Robert Long said. Long added that he was not discounting Wilson’s explanation of what happened, but said, “You have to sign it.”
“I don’t know why I should be penalized for being given wrong information,” Wilson said. “That’s not fair.”
The board kept their decision the same in finding Wilson’s petition invalid after speaking with their legal counsel, Miami County Prosecutor Tony Kendell and Chief Civil Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Englert. Kendell and Englert were present during all of the protests heard during the meeting.
Piqua City Schools Board of Education member Steve Greggerson also protested the board’s decision that found his petition to be placed on the ballot invalid. Greggerson’s petition was rejected due to leaving the nominating and circulator statements blank.
“I was given no guidelines, nothing,” Greggerson said. While Greggerson said he looked over checklist of items that needed to be completed before turning in his petition for candidacy, he said that he was not given a packet of information about how to fill out the petition like he did the first time he ran for office four years ago. The checklist was also given to Greggerson when he turned in his petition rather than when he first picked up his petition.
The board’s decision remained the same. Long said, “We don’t have a lot of flexibility,” on the circulator’s statement.
“The circulator statement is pretty clear at the end that it must be signed,” Fisher said.
It was a similar situation for Covington Village Council member Joyce Robertson, who was also running for reelection. Robertson’s petition was rejected due to leaving the nominating statement blank and leaving the name on the nominating statement blank as well.
“Each person who signed this was fully and completely aware that I, Joyce Robertson, was running for village council,” Robertson said.
Board member Ryan King said that the board does not “have a lot of leeway on that particular section,” saying, “There’s nothing to indicate who the circulator was.”
Board member Audrey Gillespie added later that “whether it’s rational or not is irrelevant,” as the board is bound by directives from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.
“Our hands are tied,” Long said.
Seven more petitioners protested the board’s decision finding their petitions invalid with four of the petitioners finding success in the board overturning their previous decision.
Anthony Miller of West Milton, where he is currently the vice mayor and is running for the mayor seat there, explained that he transposed the dates on his petition when he signed it. The board overturned their previous decision and approved his petition “in good faith,” Long said, that Miller was telling the truth about the error with the dates.
The board also approved the petition for Bill B. Gearhart, who is seeking election as a Staunton Township trustee. Gearhart’s petition had two signatures that appeared to be from the same person. Gearhart explained that a husband had his wife sign the petition due to the husband’s hand being injured at the time Gearhart circulated the petition. The wife was also her husband’s power of attorney, and Gearhart provided proof of that at the meeting.
Joellen Heatherly’s petition to run for the Tipp City Board of Education was approved after she explained a clerical error regarding the dates she marked on the petition when she signed and filed it. Heatherly also provided eight affidavits that the signatures that were found invalid on her petition were true signatures.
Matthew Downing’s petition to run for the Newton Local Board of Education was also approved. Downing explained that two of the signatures found invalid on his petition belonged to a husband and wife who had recently moved. When they signed the petition, they had not yet updated their voter registrations. They updated their voter registrations a few days after Downing’s petition was denied.
Petitions for Angela J. Deere for Laura Village mayor, Tony C. Hughes for Union Township trustee, and Karen Grudich for West Milton Village Council were still found to be invalid.
An earlier version of this story said that Covington Village Council member Joyce Robertson, who was also running for reelection, did not fill out the circulator statement on her petition for candidacy. Robertson actually did not fill out the nominating statement section on her petition. The Troy Daily News regrets this error.
Reach Sam Wildow at email@example.com or (937) 451-3336