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Democrats ask Supreme Court to rule on elections board seat

By MARK GILLISPIE Associated Press

CLEVELAND (AP) — The Ohio Supreme Court will consider whether Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose was justified in refusing to appoint a Democratic Party official to a county elections board seat, citing a voter fraud accusation from four years ago.

The Ashtabula County Democratic Party filed its complaint with the Supreme Court late last week, asking justices to decide whether LaRose “abused his discretion” in refusing to appoint county Democratic party Chairman Eli Kalil to the vacant board seat.

The court set a Friday deadline for the filing of motions in the complaint. The court has not said when it would rule.

Ashtabula is about 58 miles (93 kilometers) northeast of downtown Cleveland.

The four seats on Ohio county elections boards are split evenly between Republicans and Democrats. The Ashtabula Democratic Party submitted Kalil’s name to LaRose in late August after a Democratic member resigned.

LaRose rejected the appointment, writing that Kalil “has been investigated for encouraging a constituent to forge the signature of another person on a voter registration form, and for altering the dates on voter registration forms.”

In an email Monday, LaRose spokesperson Maggie Sheehan said: “The seriousness of the allegations should give anyone pause about the impact of this nomination for a board seat on Ashtabula County voters’ confidence.”

Kalil in an interview said the allegations made against him in 2016 were “politically motivated” and an investigation showed they were unfounded.

Kalil at the time was working as a field organizer for the Ohio Together campaign housed at county party headquarters. The Supreme Court complaint says a woman came to the headquarters and asked for a voter registration form to update her boyfriend’s address.

The woman returned 10 days later with a signed form dated before she picked up the form, the complaint said. Kalil told the woman she need to have the boyfriend sign and return a new form that day to avoid missing the voter registration deadline. The woman angrily said she did not have time and returned an hour later with the original date whited out and a new date written, the complaint said.

Kalil told the woman she could not forge her boyfriend’s signature, the complaint said, and later gave the elections board the altered form to report the irregularity.

The woman then sent a letter to Ashtabula County Republican Party Chairman Charlie Frye, an elections board member, accusing Kalil of whiting out the date and encouraging her to forge the boyfriend’s signature.

A county Sheriff’s Office investigation found no wrongdoing, according to the complaint, and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation declined Frye’s request to probe the matter.

County Prosecutor Nicholas Iarrocci, a Democrat, in two letters to the elections board wrote there was insufficient evidence to warrant criminal charges.

Asked why county Democrats did not submit another nomination to LaRose to fill the seat, Kalil said: “The party feels we need a representative on the board who will work to make the election process run smoothly, and my board felt I was the right person.”