By Sean Rice
Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell has sided with Democrat members of the Mercer County Board of Elections, and rejected the nomination of Denise Fullenkamp for elections director.
Mercer County Board of Elections President Betty Cook, a Democrat, was notified in a letter from Blackwell that Fullenkamp's current status as a Demo-crat prevents Fullenkamp from being eligible to serve as director. Ohio law states the county elections director must be the opposite party of the board chairman.
The county elections office has been without a director since July, when Republican Toni Slusser resigned for a position on Blackwell's staff.
The elections board reached a stalemate in January when attempting to appoint a new director. The four-member board of two Republicans and two Democrats voted in a tie for five subsequent motions to appoint Fullenkamp. The two Democrats, Cook and Mark Uhlenhake, voted against the nomination.
According to Ohio law, the Republican members have a right to nominate a Republican for the position. When nominating Fullenkamp, a letter was presented stating her intention to vote as a Republican at the next primary election. Ohio residents declare their political party by voting in a primary election. In his decision, Blackwell states the overwhelming evidence suggests that Fullenkamp is truly a Democrat, according to her voting record and volunteer work for the Democrats.
Blackwell notes that Ohio law states the next director in Mercer County should be a Republican, unless the board acts to reorganize and choose a Republican board president and Democrat elections director.
"Nothing in the record rebuts the compelling presumption that Ms. Fullenkamp is a Democrat," Blackwell wrote. "Because the record fails to establish that Ms. Fullenkamp is a Republican, while providing ample evidence that she is a Democrat, I find the Republican board members erred in nominating her for this position."
Blackwell also noted the board Democrats, Cook and Uhlenhake, were in error when they stated in a position paper that Ohio law states the next director must be a Democrat, because Slusser was a Republican.
"However, your reading of the statute, and thus your claim, are incorrect," Blackwell wrote.
The secretary of state, Ohio's top election official, instructed board members to go back to the pool of nominees and choose a director, and deputy director if needed.
Elections board members set an emergency meeting for 3 p.m. today to discuss the position.