MOUNT VERNON — Local Republican Diane Holley spent several days during some of February’s harshest weather collecting signatures to put Steve Christopher on the ballot as Republican candidate for Ohio Attorney General. Unfortunately, her efforts were for naught, as nearly 2,000 signatures are claimed to be missing at the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.
“Where are they? That’s the $20 million question,” said Mark Lucas, spokesman for Christopher. “They never left the Secretary of State’s Office. They are lost, stolen, destroyed … who knows.”
Christopher filed his petitions, with approximately 2,750 signatures, early in the afternoon on Feb. 18, the deadline for filing for the May 4 primary.
“We have a time-stamped receipt,” said Lucas. “I personally saw and helped count the initial stack of petitions. We have signed affidavits verifying the number of signatures submitted.”
Lucas said approximately 2,000 signatures were among the initial petitions submitted to Christopher for filing. Additional petitions were collected the morning of Feb. 18, he said. Those late additions included two four-part petitions with 64 total signatures from Knox County.
“I met Steve Christopher in the lobby of the Red Roof Inn in Grove City. I placed those petitions in his hands at 8 a.m.,” Holley said.
From there, Lucas said, Christopher headed to a Staples, where employees made copies of the petitions.
“… The copies matched the petitions submitted. There would be no way that you could accidentally stack them because one petition is one sheet of paper, so each petition has to be separate,” Lucas said in response to being asked if petitions and copies could have been placed together, leaving Christopher with both the copies and the petitions.
On March 5, a press release from the Secretary of State announced the names of statewide candidates with certified petitions. Christopher, along with four other candidates, was not certified. According to information released from the SOS office, Christopher filed 104 part petitions that totaled 788 signatures; 638 were deemed valid. This fell well short of the 1,000 valid signatures required for candidacy.
According to Jeff Ortega, communications director for the Secretary of State’s office, candidates and those filing petitions for issues are asked to approximate the number of signatures they are submitting; that number is not verified at the time of filing.
“Any ‘purported’ number of signatures provided by a candidate is subject to verification by Ohio’s bipartisan county boards of elections, with a final tally of results from the counties completed by the Secretary of State’s office,” stated a press release issued March 9 by the SOS in response to Christopher’s allegations that the SOS lost or misplaced the vast majority of his petitions.
Once filed, petitions go through a sequential stamping process and are then scanned in order to be sent to the counties for verification, Ortega said.
“All allegations of mishandling are to the contrary,” Ortega said. “All proper procedures were followed. There is a clear chain of custody. These accusations are unfounded and untrue.”
Ortega added that all petitions were sent out for certification, regardless of whether enough signatures were submitted. A valid petition must have at least 1,000 valid signatures. Petitions with more than 3,000 submitted signatures are rejected.
Although 64 signatures were collected in Knox County, according to Kim Horn, director of the Knox County Board of Elections, only four signatures were received for validation.
“I’m mad. I’m very mad,” Holley said. “I know I had at least 50 solid signatures that couldn’t be disqualified. These were Republicans that haven’t moved in years. Of the four that were validated, they came from a gun show in Columbus on Valentine’s Day, and one of them was mine.”
Holley is confident in the number of valid signatures she collected because she performed what Lucas called an “in-house” verification before the campaign was aware of noncertification.
“They sent petitions back to those that collected them. I did a lot of work after the fact,” she said. “I could go online and check to make sure addresses matched and that those signatures matched Republicans.”
Holley said she did have some signatures that were from Democrats, or that the actual signature did not match the full name.
After being advised his number of signatures was not enough to put him on the ballot, Christopher asked a third party to speak to Brunner about the situation. Copies of the petitions were also provided to Brunner.
“Based on our review of these part petitions, there is no evidence that these part petitions were ever presented to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office as part of Mr. Christopher’s filing on Feb. 18, 2010. In fact, one part petition that was included with the group of part petitions that you sent today was circulated in Shelby County on Feb. 18, 2010, which was date of the filing deadline and the same date upon which Mr. Christopher appeared in the Secretary of State’s office at approximately 12:20 p.m. to file his declaration of candidacy and petition,” said Mike Rankin, assistant Secretary of State, in a letter to David Langdon, Christopher’s attorney, dated Friday.
“Because it was after the filing date, she won’t consider the copies,” Lucas said. “The time frame we have to work in is so limited, the only thing we could do is hire an attorney.”
Christopher hired David R. Langdon to submit a writ of mandamus with the Ohio Supreme Court asking the panel of judges to require Brunner to send the copied petitions out for verification or to add his name to the ballot.
With early voting starting March 30, Lucas is hopeful the Supreme Court will make a ruling within the next two weeks.
“This could be the fastest court proceeding ever seen when it comes to an election,” Lucas said.
For Holley, she’s still wanting answers as to how this could have happened.
“This is pretty crummy,” Holley said. “The Ohio Republican Party — we haven’t heard a peep out of them while Steve fights to have his name on the ballot. ... I’m really ramped up. It all makes me want to fight harder.”
A message left for the Ohio GOP on Monday for comment was not returned at press time.