When an Open Door is a Problem: Controversy in Ohio’s Summit County

[Image via wakr]

Many election offices across the country operate with an “open door” policy in an effort to demonstrate transparency, but the idea got pushed a little too far earlier this week in Summit County (Akron), Ohio when the doors to the Board of Elections office were automatically unlocked on Columbus Day when no one was there. WKYC has more:

There is some concern over who may have had access to the Summit County Board of Elections, and for how long on the Columbus Day holiday. 

Kellie Patterson found the building unlocked on Monday when it was supposed to be closed to the public.

By Monday evening, the sign on the door read “Closed for Columbus Day”, but the sign wasn’t there when Patterson walked in.

The door was open. Unlocked.

Patterson says she had access to the whole building.

It got her thinking if she, and at least 2 others she knows of, waltzed right in, who else could have?

She was there to drop some paperwork off. Patterson is running for Cuyahoga Falls School Board. She says a gentleman in the parking lot told her he had been inside, but no one was there.

Patterson then walks straight through the door with him.

“I said, ‘Oh Yeah!  That’s right.’ It’s Columbus Day and it dawned on me then. So we started yelling ‘Hello! Hello?’ And nobody came. I didn’t know what to do at that point. Being it was a holiday, the office numbers went unanswered needless to say. So I called the police, says Patterson.

She says Akron Police and someone from the BOE showed up and locked up the building.

“Anybody could have walked in there and done anything they wanted. I could have hopped the counter. I could have gone back,” says Patterson.

 

The Akron Beacon Journal Board subsequently reported that the Board blamed the problem on faulty programming of a door lock:

The board of elections’ top executives, Republican Joe Masich and Democrat Paula Sauter, issued a joint statement Tuesday explaining that the front door had been unlocked remotely by a computer program installed Friday. Apparently, the company that installed the unit made a programming error, the election officials said.

“Sensitive materials and equipment including ballots (voted and unvoted), ballot scanners and electronic poll books were at all times locked securely in vaults within the board office,” Masich and Sauter said in the joint statement. “All areas of the board building are under video surveillance. Board staff has reviewed the video footage and determined that nothing untoward occurred during the time the public entrance was unlocked. No unauthorized person went beyond the public area of the building into the restricted area…”

“Board staff is working with the contractor to ensure the new locking system has been properly programmed and fully tested so no such errors occur in the future,” said Bill Rich, chairman of the Summit County Board of Elections. After he was notified of the breach, Rich said he arrived at the office shortly after 11 a.m. and waited there until a worker showed up to fix the programming glitch.

I will admit to being curious what the backstory is on the Board needing a computer program (and, presumably, paying for it) to automatically lock and unlock the office door; that decision – more than a programming error or the Columbus Day holiday – is really what’s at issue here. In hindsight, the Board may decide that manually unlocking and locking the doors may be less risky. It reminds me of the old vaudeville routine: “Doc, it hurts when I do this.” “Then don’t do that.”

There’s bound to be more on this story – stay tuned …

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