In November all eyes in both the nation and locally were on the election. In Athens County Election Day was met with long, socially-distanced lines and allegations of election tampering at the polling location inside the Alexander Local School District.
According to reports, signs involving Katie O’Neill, the Democratic party candidate for the 94th Ohio House District Representative, were displayed inside the voting booths and instructed voters to not cast votes for her, as those votes would not be counted.
The allegations were first sent to Kate McGuckin, chair of the board of the Athens County Board of Elections Office, by 1:45 p.m. on Nov. 3.
During a special meeting held by the Athens County Board of Elections on Nov. 10, the board determined that the alleged tampering were off-base and the incident was a result of “human error.”
Ultimately, the neon-colored signage viewed in booths of the Alexander Local School polling location, which served four precincts, was deemed not worthy of further investigation as it was signage left in the booths from the primary election. During that race, the Athens County Elections Board ruled against Democratic candidate Katie O’Neill after an Athens County resident questioned her eligibility based of residency.
The Board said no malicious intent was behind the signage’s placement during the General Election, and only the Alexander precinct officials had not removed the instructions.
“So it was a human error, there is no evidence that there was any attempt to sway the election in her opponents favor,” said Chair of the Athens County Board of Elections Kate McGuckin. Later, the Board voted unanimously in favor of sending an apology to O’Neill for the signs.
The signs inside voting booths on Nov. 3 instructed voters that any votes cast for Katie O’Neill, a Democrat candidate for the position, “will NOT be counted.” The signs also noted “Democratic Party Ballot” at the top. General Election day ballots do not have a party.
Two further neon signs were alleged to be on display in the booths at the same time — each was title “Notice of withdrawn candidate.” The first noted that for a Democratic Ballot, votes cast for Cory Booker “shall NOT count;” and the other noted that for a Republican Party Ballot, votes vast for Scott Robe would not be counted.
The signs referencing O’Neill, who was running against incumbent Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville), caused consternation and confusion as voters wondered if she had dropped out.
On election day, O’Neill posted to her campaign Facebook page asking for information about “election fraud” and the signs. On Nov. 6, O’Neill said the Athens County Board of Elections had “interfered” with both of her elections.
“I wanted a fair election and the Athens County Board of Elections interfered with both of my elections,” she said in a statement posted to her campaign Facebook page. “The Ohio Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that the Board of Elections ‘abused its discretion’ and ‘clearly disregarded applicable law’ by voting me off the primary ballot.”
Her statement continued, saying the signs “materialized” at a polling location during the general election, and “could be seen for hours by everyone present.”
“The Athens County Board of Elections imposed an oppressive narrative that I was unqualified to be on the ballot from beginning to end,” she wrote. ”Please contact me with your experiences so that we can ensure that this never happens again. Did you receive the orange sign telling you not to vote for me? Did you see it at a polling location in the primary or general election?”
She further noted that she was in contact with her lawyer, Louis Grube, of Paul W. Flowers and Assoc. to discuss the matter.
The matter will not result in a re-election or other re-count, as voted on by the Athens County Board of Elections. Athens County Board of Elections Director Debra Quivey noted that even if 100 percent of the votes cast in the four affected precincts were cast for O’Neill, the election’s results would not have been swayed.
The investigation was conducted by Director Quivey. She noted that all of the materials from the precinct were removed and put aside in a special location to preserve evidence. All of the polling location directors from the 94th State Representative District — 19 in total — gave certified statements about “improper documents” in their booths, in addition to signed statements from Boards of Elections in the other counties which are touched by the district.
Another issue of interest from the Nov. 3 election was the decriminalization of marijuana in Glouster, Jacksonville and Trimble.
The decriminalizing measure will reduce penalties for misdemeanor marijuana offenses to the lowest allowed by law. In Athens, the ordinance lowered the cost of misdemeanor marijuana citations within the city limits to $0, including no court costs. This applies to possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana, possession of 10 grams of hash, cultivation of up to 200 grams of marijuana, gifts of up to 20 grams of marijuana and possession and sale of paraphernalia, which includes items like pipes, bowls and grinders.
The measure would also place marijuana offenses as one of the lowest priorities for law enforcement, leaving them more latitude to address higher-stakes issues.