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Democrats challenge Householder's victory
Householder Speaker elected county auditor by a hair
Friday, December 17, 2004. Sandy Theis Cleveland Plain Dealer Bureau Columbus -

Democrats filed a lawsuit to overturn House Speaker Larry Householder's election as Perry County auditor, saying they discovered a string of peculiar voting irregularities that cast doubt on his victory.

In at least 11 of the county's 46 precincts, the number of votes cast exceeded the number of people who signed the voting books on Election Day, according to the lawsuit. It cites cases where 359 votes were cast by people whose signatures were never verified, as election law requires. In one precinct alone, 91 voters did not sign the books.

Researchers for Columbus attorney Michael Kolman, who filed the lawsuit, provided copies of the signature books. When matched against official vote tallies from the Board of Elections, they showed discrepancies between the number of votes cast and number of signatures. The lawsuit also notes that dozens of absentee voters signed the books - after also receiving absentee ballots in the mail.

"We have no way to prove who actually voted and no way to know whether some people might have voted twice - by absentee and in person," Kolman said in an interview.

Ohio election law requires all precincts to maintain a book that voters must sign before casting their ballots. Each book contains a digital signature of the voter, obtained either from the voter's registration form or from a signature given in a prior election. Poll workers are supposed to match the signature on file with the Election-Day signature to verify the identity of the person who wants to vote.

The lawsuit stops short of accusing Householder or his allies of stuffing the ballot boxes, but it asserts that irregularities of some type occurred countywide and the number of questionable votes exceeds Householder's 277-vote margin of victory.

Neither Householder nor Perry County Board of Elections officials could be reached for comment. Householder attorney Bill Wilkinson, however, said he is grateful that no one is accusing Householder of misconduct and said he believes the election was conducted fairly and honestly. If mistakes were made, Wilkinson said, there is no guarantee they benefited one candidate over the other.

Board members certified the results of the recount Dec. 8 and declared Householder the official winner against Democrat Bill Crane. Crane has said he requested a recount after hearing of possible irregularities from local residents, some of whom offered to help pay for the recount.

Householder had been on track to run for state auditor in 2006 until federal investigations into his fund-raising practices caused him to change course and run for the local office instead. The county auditor's post came open after the sudden death of longtime incumbent Joann Hankinson. Householder was elected to fill the balance of her term.

Although Householder began the race as the best-funded local candidate in Perry County history, the scandals forced him to nearly empty his campaign account and spend more than $800,000 - an unprecedented amount for a rural county race. Crane spent just $4,500, records show.

Official results show 14,769 votes were cast, 7,523 for Householder and 7,246 for Crane. In the past, courts have ruled that an election can be overturned if it is proven that half of the margin of victory, plus 1, came from votes improperly cast. Because he lost by 277 votes, Crane could win the case if he proved that 140 votes were improper.

After Hankinson's death, Crane was appointed interim auditor - a post he would keep if his lawsuit is successful. Ohio law provides that since there is no incumbent in the office, the temporary appointee - in this case Crane - would retain the office until the next general election in 2006.

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