By Sean Rice
Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell has decided Denise Fullenkamp will be the next Mercer County Elections Director.
Fullenkamp's hiring to the vacant position of elections director has been an issue of controversy since January, when Republican members of the Mercer County Board of Elections nominated her, and Democrat board members blocked the nomination.
Blackwell decided this week Fullenkamp is qualified for the job and is a member of the correct party to hold the position.
In January Blackwell said Fullenkamp could not be director because the position calls for a Republican and she is a registered Democrat, who only pledged to switch to the Republican party. Blackwell then changed his mind this week.
"Ms. Fullenkamp appears well qualified to perform the duties of director," Blackwell wrote in his most recent decision released Monday. "The record submitted with this tie vote includes a sworn affidavit, in which Fullenkamp states under oath she is a Republican and will vote as a Republican in the next election. Her sworn statement outweighs the general nature of her previous voting record." The director is required under Ohio law to be of opposite party of the board chairman. Democrat Betty Cook is chairman in Mercer County.
The four-member board of elections voted in a stalemate 10 times during two meetings in January and March. Republican members Owen Hall and Dell Kramer made motions to hire Fullenkamp, and Demo-crat members Cook and Mark Uhlenhake voted against the nominations. Blackwell, the state's highest election official, casts the tie vote for all county election boards when needed.
Democrats initially charged Republicans with trying to "railroad" the deputy elections director, Democrat Diana Grile, who is also Fullenkamp's mother. They said hiring Fullenkamp would force the board to dismiss Grile, because of laws against nepotism.
Democrats also said Kramer and Hall's nomination was illegal, because Fullenkamp was a registered Democrat and ineligible for nomination by Republicans.
"We have always contended she is the best person for the job. We were ready to have her as director regardless if she was a Democrat or Republican," Kramer said this morning. "We owe it to the electorate of Mercer County to have the best possible person in there."
Cook and Uhlenhake could not be reached for comment.
Kramer said Democrat board members were given the opportunity to reorganize the board, which may have changed which party gets to nominate the director, but "they never took the chance to do that," Kramer said.
The board always has the option to reorganize and select a new chairman. For that to happen without another stalemate, three of four members would have to agree.
Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Hinders, who is legal counsel for the board, told The Daily Standard there is no law that says Grile and Fullenkamp cannot work in the same office, only laws against family favoritism in contracts and jobs.
"But who would evaluate who?" Hinders asked rhetorically. "It lays open the opportunity to stumble upon a violation."
Fullenkamp currently is a clerk and makes $10.50 per hour.