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Elections board correct to seek outside probe

Whether intentional or not, it appears a violation occurred when the head of the local Republican Party circulated petitions for an independent candidate hoping to challenge Trumbull County Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa.

Even now, the candidacy of Dennis Malloy of Bazetta remains in question because of what might be an insufficient amount of signatures on his candidacy petition.

While Malloy and his supporters, including Trumbull County Republican Party Chairman Kevin Wyndham, collected more than the 749 signatures required to get on the ballot, only 704 of the signatures were deemed valid by the board last month.

The issue that is dividing the board deals with one page of the petition that, if certified, would put Malloy over the required number of signatures to appear on the ballot.

The petition page was circulated by Wyndham. While most of the signatures on the page may be valid, the entire petition of 30 signatures was invalidated by the board because in one instance, a woman signed for both she and her husband. The “double signature” was caught because the handwriting and signatures matched the woman’s.

Wyndham said a woman signed for her husband even though the spouse was standing next to her during a crowded March 7 event.

The husband “was standing there and I didn’t realize he hadn’t signed it,” Wyndham said. “There were a lot of people there. I didn’t pay enough attention that the signatures were the same.”

That sounds like a reasonable explanation; however, it may fall short of the law requiring petition circulators to sign an affidavit, under penalty of law, declaring he or she witnessed every signature on the page.

The Trumbull County Board of Elections this week split 2-2 on whether Malloy should be permitted to run as an independent candidate in the race for county commissioner this fall. If he is returned to the ballot, Malloy will be the only challenger for Democratic incumbent commissioner Cantalamessa.

Interestingly, the 2-2 vote did not fall along party lines. Rather, Republican Kathi Creed and Democrat Mark Alberini voted to disqualify Malloy. Republican Ron Knight and Democrat Diana Marchese voted to accept Malloy’s candidacy.

The matter now moves on to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office to decide the outcome, and the board must be willing to accept and respect the decision of Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

In the interim, however, the Trumbull County Board of Elections was correct in its decision earlier this month to call for an outside investigation into whether Wyndham violated the law when he signed the affidavit.

A similar question arose last year involving Democratic Hubbard City Council candidate Lisha Pompilli Baumiller, who had circulated a petition that later was disqualified for similar circumstances. Similarly, her case was turned over to the sheriff’s office by a board vote. Ultimately she was charged criminally and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of making a false affidavit or statement concerning an election petition.

Undoubtedly, when signing a sworn affidavit, the information must be accurate. Further, we must hold candidates and leaders of our political parties to the highest standards.

The board was right to turn the case over to the sheriff’s office for a thorough investigation. Now, we should expect that the outcome will carry no political bias and no appearance of impropriety.

editorial@tribtoday.com

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