The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 28, 2013

Ashtabula County Board of Elections says man needs to vote in Lake County

Star Beacon

JEFFERSON — An area man who for years voted in Geneva is officially a resident of Madison and needs to cast his ballots in Lake County, members of the Ashtabula County Board of Elections said at a Wednesday morning meeting.

The board agreed Albert Mason did not intentionally try to skirt the law by voting in Geneva, but also unanimously approved a motion that removes his name from Ashtabula County’s list of eligible voters.

At issue is a complaint logged by a county precinct worker in February who said a man who regularly votes in Geneva actually lives in Madison. At a public hearing earlier this month, board members were given evidence and heard an explanation from Mason, who said he splits his time between houses in Geneva and Madison. Mason said he considers himself an Ashtabula County resident, adding he believes his situation is no different than someone who winters in Florida.

“I feel I’m a lifer here,” Mason said at the time.

Board members sympathized, but ultimately disagreed, based on evidence that included: Bills sent to Mason’s Madison address, a Madison listing for Mason in the local telephone book, no utility hookups at the Geneva house in the winter and Mason’s statement that his wife does not live in the Ashtabula County house.

“It appears Mr. Mason is a resident of Lake County,” said Joseph Varckette, board chairman.

At the crux of the matter was pinpointing Mason’s “domicile residence,” which determines voting location, versus a temporary address. The board, after reviewing evidence and data provided by the county prosecutor’s office, quickly concluded Mason didn’t truly live Members spent plenty of time, however, crafting their motion, believing their decision sets a precedent. Ultimately, the motion made by Charlie Frye included sections of Ohio law as well as a statement from the board that Mason did not intend any fraud.

“No felonious conduct was uncovered or intended,” Varckette said.

Mason was allowed to vote in Geneva because he presented a driver’s license that listed a North Ridge West, Geneva, address, officials said. However, a driver’s license does not establish residency in the eyes of election law, said Carol Lovas, director.

“If there’s a (voter registration) update in our office, that person doesn’t need to have their driver’s license updated, too,” she said.

Mason is free to return to Ashtabula County’s voter rolls once he meets eligibility guidelines. “It’s not a ban for life,” Varckette said.

In other business, the office will hold another mock election next month as part of it poll worker training program. A similar mock election earned state recognition for the board staff a few years ago.

Also, the board agree to add two computer tablets to the pair already part of an experiment to gauge their effectiveness in helping guide voters to their precinct in large polling places. The tablets, which will debut in the May 7 election, will hold addresses and registration data that can be accessed quickly by workers.

The board recently consolidated its precincts from 127 to 104, a move that created larger polling places in some locations. The tablets will be used at select spots in Geneva, Jefferson and Ashtabula — some of the busier locations where elections will be held this spring.

The board wants to see if the tablets help voters reach their destinations more efficiently and cut down on calls to the election board before investing in additional devices.

“It gives us the opportunity to do a dry run,” said Duane Feher, deputy director. “There will be a learning curve.”