Board of Elections inundated with calls, director receives threats

Debbie Newcomb

JEFFERSON — Thousands of local Democrats recently received letters and a modified form to request a Republican absentee ballot via the Ashtabula County Republican Party, resulting in confusion and a few death threats.

The modification to the absentee ballot request form states that it’s an “Absentee Ballot Application to Request a Republican Ballot to Support President Trump.” It was sent to “Dear Fellow Patriot.”

Charlie Frye, chair of the Republican Party and Board of Elections director, said the party mailed around 7,000 letters to Democrats ahead of the March primary election. This represents around 70 percent of registered Democrats in Ashtabula County, he said.

The party was trying to reach a certain demographic of Democratic voters so it wasn’t sent to all registered Democrats, Frye said, although he declined to say exactly what demographic it was trying to target.

Although the letter was not sent from the Board of Elections, many were confused and thought it was from the office, according to Debbie Newcomb, deputy director of the Ashtabula County Board of Elections and chair of the Democratic Party.

More than a hundred people have called the Board of Elections over the past couple of days, some worried that the office had switched their party affiliation, Newcomb said. Newcomb said the board’s role is to remain neutral and sending such a letter, even in the capacity of a partisan role, was inappropriate.

“It’s caused a problem and people are calling,” Newcomb said. “They actually modified an absentee ballot application. It was confusing to people because at the bottom it listed the board’s number for those who had questions.”

In a post to its Facebook page, the Ashtabula County Democrats said the letter’s use of a quote by John F. Kennedy is disturbing, and that the Republican party has never stood for the rights of working people.

“We cannot stand by and let the Republican Party erode constitutional checks and balances in an unending attempt to garner power and fear,” the Ashtabula County Democrats said.

“Democrats have never wavered in their mission to help improve the minimum wage, preserve health care, and help educate all children, while the Republican Party has sought to ignore these issues with crafty campaigning tailored to blind the general public from their true mission — to benefit itself and its rich constituents at any cost.”

The letter sent by Frye states that a “radicalized wing of the Democrat party is moving the party platform further away from it’s (sic) proud past.”

Frye wrote that many Democrats he speaks to don’t recognize their party anymore and many are afraid to switch parties out of a fear of losing their jobs.

Frye said the Republican Party conducted research which indicated there are numerous Democrats in the county who want to switch sides and support Trump. The letters and application forms sent were an effort to assist them in doing so, Frye said.

“We have received hundreds of calls and emails over the last six to eight months from Democrats who wanted to change their party affiliation and didn’t know exactly how to do it,” Frye said.

Frye said the party has polling data which suggests that as much as 30 percent of registered Democrats in Ashtabula County support Trump. 

“What we did was send an outreach letter which I don’t think was deceptive in the least,” Frye said. “I introduced myself as the chairman of the Republican Party and asked them to consider joining with some reasons why.”

Frye said everything was paid for by the Republican Party and there is nothing wrong with modifying the Board of Elections absentee form that was mailed out. He’s received a mix of calls from those who are angry, thankful and even a few death threats.

“Lots of political action committees and groups come up with their own request forms depending on the target they are looking at,” Frye said. “It’s a standard operating procedure. It’s commonplace. It may be odd for Republicans to target Democrats, but it’s an odd election coming up.”

Frye, who said he was once a Democrat, doesn’t think this tactic will result in questioning of the Board of Elections’ integrity.

“I tried to make the letter as obvious as I could that this was for Democrats that want to change party but don’t know how and I was acting as the chairman of the Republican Party,” Frye said. “There was no intent to deceive anyone.”

Democrats who received the letters reacted on social media by calling it tacky, desperate and a laughable plea for votes. Many said they threw the letters away and, if anything, it made them despise the Republican Party even more than they already did.

Debra Cary, an Ashtabula resident who has been a registered Democrat since 1972, said in a phone interview that she was disturbed by the letter and ripped it up upon receiving it. She was also confused because she normally requests an absentee ballot and she didn’t initially realize that what she received was from the Republican Party.

“On Monday, I called for an application for an absentee ballot and on Tuesday I get home and there’s a letter,” Cary said. “I didn’t recognize the address. I opened it and thought, ‘Why is this man telling me I have to become a Republican and giving me a list of candidates for whom to vote?’”

Cary said she called the Board of Elections office and was “quite vulgar and angry” because she thought it was from them. She said she also considers it insulting to Democratic voters to assume they aren’t capable on their own of changing parties if they want to support Trump.

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