By MARK TODD - firstname.lastname@example.org
Ashtabula County Board of Elections will ask county prosecutors’ help with a case of alleged voter fraud involving a 66-year-old man with two different addresses.
After a 45-minute public hearing Friday morning, board members unanimously agreed to request the prosecutor’s office to weigh in on the matter of permanent residency, which is crucial to allegations raised regarding voter Albert Mason.
At issue is a complaint brought by county precinct worker Sue Roe, who in February informed the board a man she knew to live in Madison cast a vote in Geneva during the November general election.
A directive just issued by the Ohio Secretary of State’s office requires election boards to convene formal hearings to deal with election fraud allegations. In the past, the board dealt with such matters during its regular meetings. Friday’s hearing, recorded by a stenographer, was the Ashtabula County board’s first since the order was issued.
Mason told the board he splits his time between houses in Geneva and Madison. He normally resides in Geneva during the winter, when his sister — the usual occupant — relocates to Florida, the board learned. Mason was living in the Geneva house at the time of the fall election, he said.
“I pay taxes here and I feel I should have a right to vote in this county,” Mason said. “I live more months (in Ashtabula County) than Lake. I don’t feel I violated any law.”
Mason, who owns a local business, freely admitted he voted in Geneva last fall and owns property in Lake County, but said he only votes one time during an election, and always in Ashtabula County. He compared his situation to “snowbirds” who routinely spend months at a time out of state.
“In my opinion, Ashtabula County is my main residence,” Mason said. “I feel I’m a lifer here.”
Duane Feher, deputy director, presented the board several documents as evidence, including Mason’s photo ID that states a Geneva address, bills sent to a Madison address, correspondence Mason sent to the Roe family that listed a Madison return address and the local telephone book, which lists a Madison number for Mason.
The board was clearly perplexed by the complaint. More than one member said the case was “unique,” and all said they believe Mason did not intentionally try to skirt the law.
Members also agreed Mason’s official home — as defined by law — needs to be established before action can be taken. “We need to understand the definition of permanent residence,” said Charlie Frye
Joseph Varckette, board chairman who conducted the hearing, agreed. “It’s required by law that people vote where they live,” he said.
Board members ultimately approved Varckette’s motion to pass along the documents and evidence to the prosecutor’s office for evaluation and to help pinpoint Mason’s legal address. If the board finds Mason willfully violated election law, he could lose his right to vote or even face criminal charges.