There’s been a shake up at the Brown County Board of Elections.
During a special meeting on Wednesday, September 23, Moriah Votel, a Republican, stepped down as chairwoman of the Board of Elections as Democrat Jo Ann Kattine took her place, which was all part of a reorganization of the board in order to hire a new director. Former Deputy Director Connie Ayers agreed to take over as director, and Kelly Fussnecker Moran, a Democrat, was hired to be the new deputy director.
“We met and the board reorganized,” Votel said. “So that meant that the chairwoman of the board would be a Democrat and the director would be Republican and the deputy director would be a Democrat. By statute we must have a director of the Board of Elections and we were concerned (that it was vacant for so long). We needed to get a director in there and have a fully functioning staff for the November Election.”
The decision to move forward in this manner was unanimous, according to Votel and Democratic board member Dallas Hurt.
Ayers was asked by the board during the meeting if she’d accept a promotion to be director, and she agreed. Later, the board agreed unanimously to hire Moran. Moran won out over Tim McKeown, Margery Paeltz, Steve Tripplet, and Kathy Jones, in that order, according to Hurt.
“I have been painted as obstructionist by certain parties just because I have had a different opinion than that of Mrs. Kattine on how to move forward,” Hurt said in a statement following the meeting. “I am in complete agreement with her election as Chair of the Board. This was the first significant Board of Elections meeting that I have attended since being thrown into a totally dysfunctional Board situation by appointment to fill Ralph Quallen”s vacant seat on February 20, 2015 that was peaceful, without tension and rancor. Today we discussed, analyzed and voted in agreement on every vote. The agitation of back party interference was not felt at the table. That is a positive sign.”
Kattine said that she was more than willing to accept becoming the new chairwoman of the Board of Elections, on the condition that the board leaves the day-to-day work to the employees in the office, instead of coming in and working during the week, as has been done recently with no director around.
“I was not expecting any of this,” Kattine said. “I will gladly accept it with the understanding that the employees run the office. We’re there only to advise and assist.”
On September 11, the Board of Elections approved a motion to offer former Board of Elections employee Joellyn Waits a part-time position at $18 per hour to help the board employees, nearly all of whom are either brand new to elections work or are inexperienced.
Ayers, as the new director, becomes the most experienced person in the office with three years under her belt. Votel expects that the Ohio Secretary of State’s office will continue to be in contact with Brown County to ensure they’re meeting deadlines, but the board was confident in Ayers abilities to keep things in control.
“My ambition is the same as it’s been,” Ayers said. “I want a good election for the citizens of the county and I want them to have faith in our board of elections. We’re going to do that. I want to have a good team to work together in the office, and I want everyone to know that we’re going to do that for them, and we’ll work together.”
After weeks and even months of strife within the Board of Elections, leading to the resignation of former Director Kathy Jones and former Deputy Director Elizabeth Thorn-McKenzie, Votel said that her decision to step down as chair of the board was necessary for the board to stabilize less than two months prior to an election.
“The reorganization is a big deal,” Votel said. “I really feel that this is what needed to happen to get the most experienced person in the director’s position and stepping down as chair was what I needed to do to ensure the integrity of the elections process.”
October 5 is the final day for voter registration for the November 3 general election. One day later, the Board of Elections begins processing absentee ballots from people not including uniformed and overseas citizens.