Learning Through Doing? Summit County, OH Deadlocks on State Senator as Pollworker

Summit_County,_Ohio_Courthouse

 

[Image courtesy of familysearch]

There’s an interesting story developing in Summit County (Akron), Ohio – where the county Board of Elections has deadlocked on whether or not a sitting state senator can serve as a pollworker. It’s a fascinating blend of partisanship, policymaking and miscommunication, as Ohio.com found:

State Sen. Frank LaRose has proposed several bills on election issues and thought a novel way to get a first-hand view of the process would be to get into the trenches, serving as a poll worker.

His fellow Republicans on the Summit County Board of Elections, though, threw a wrench into his plans Friday when they voted against approving the list of poll workers for the September primary because he was on it. They said elected officials shouldn’t be poll workers. The board’s Democratic members supported LaRose’s right to serve, resulting in a 2-2 deadlock.

This means that Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, will have to break the tie.

To his credit, Sen. LaRose takes some of the blame for the controversy but seems to want to serve in order to better inform his own work on election laws:

LaRose, R-Copley Township, who has been an advocate for civility and bipartisan cooperation, was disappointed to hear about the deadlock after the board meeting. In hindsight, he wishes he would have talked to Summit County GOP Chairman Alex Arshinkoff, one of the two Republican board members, before hand.

“I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal,” LaRose said. “It almost seems like we’ve gotten to the point where Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on what day of week it is. We have to fight about everything.”

The elections board approves poll workers before each election, signing on off a list of Republicans, Democrats and non-affiliated workers. Each party generates its own list of workers.

When LaRose called the board to inquire about whether he could serve, he said he was told elected officials could serve as long as their name isn’t on the ballot. LaRose was re-elected last year to a four-year term.

“I’ve always believed you learn best from the ground up,” he said. “If you own a trucking company, you should work on the loading docks.”

The issue essentially boils down to a dispute over two issues – first, whether LaRose should be allowed to serve as an elected official:

Arshinkoff said after the meeting that he doesn’t have anything against LaRose — he supported his candidacy and hopes he’ll run for governor some day — but thinks regular citizens, and not elected officials should be poll workers. He said he’s not aware of any elected officials serving as poll workers during his long tenure on the board.

[Democratic board chair Tim] Gorbach, though, said he doesn’t think an elected official should be denied the right because of the position he or she holds.

“I don’t know what the basis is not to appoint him,” he said. “I don’t think he should be penalized because he’s an elected official….”

Paula Sauter, the board’s deputy director, said precinct committee members have served as poll workers in the past, as long as they aren’t in a precinct in which their name is on the ballot.

Gorbach said he sees a benefit to an elected official getting a first-hand view of the election process to gain a better understanding of how it works and the challenges that come with it.

“The more elected officials who understand the election process, the better it is for us,” he said.

But the bigger issue may be the second – namely, the role that each party (doesn’t) play in the other’s poll worker selection:

Arshinkoff and Bryan Williams, the board’s other Republican member, said they hadn’t had the chance to look over the list of poll workers until Friday’s board meeting. Arshinkoff spoke up as soon as he saw LaRose’s name.

“It’s a slippery slope if office holders are inside booths,” he said.

Tim Gorbach, the board’s Democratic chairman, though, questioned why the board would prohibit LaRose from serving. This angered Arshinkoff, who said the Republican board members have always decided on their poll workers, while the Democrats pick theirs.

“We’ll start voting on all booth workers,” he said.

Gorbach reacted to this by calling for a vote on the list, drawing in the tie.

Putting on my nonpartisan electiongeek hat, I’m thrilled that an elected official wants to see how the process works. There are, to be sure, challenges associated with Sen. LaRose’s service, including potential electioneering concerns, but it appears that the people most likely to be hurt by those concerns are in favor of his service. In the end, the biggest problem will likely be LaRose’s “rookie” pollworker status, which is always a factor on Election Day as pollworker training classes suddenly come to life.

It’ll be interesting to see what SoS Husted does … and whether or not LaRose’s example spurs other elected officials in Ohio and elsewhere to step into the polling place. In my humble opinion, while such “VIP” pollworkers may create some headaches for election officials, the firsthand look at what Election Day really looks like can only be a good thing in the long run.

What a great story – can’t wait to see how it turns out. Stay tuned!

2 Comments on "Learning Through Doing? Summit County, OH Deadlocks on State Senator as Pollworker"

  1. David Kimball | August 31, 2015 at 3:22 pm | Reply

    I think the biggest problem is that the county party chair also gets to serve on the election board and (irony alert!) he is the one citing a conflict of interest policy to prevent others from policing elections.

  2. Learning through doing is an excellent way of learning. Not in words but in work, proof should be given.

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