Discrepancies were found with petition signatures
By Brett Milam
Clermont County Commissioner and head of the Republican Party, David Uible, will not be on the ballot May 8 for the Republican primary in a reelection effort, following a discrepancy in Uible’s part- petition.
Uible has served as county commissioner since March 30, 2012.
At a March 5 protest hearing, the Clermont County Board of Elections voted to kick Uible off of the May ballot because of the issue with his part-petition.
A part-petition is a part of the whole petition a candidate brings forth to the board in order to be validated as a candidate in an upcoming election. Petitions include pertinent candidate information, as well as the necessary number of signatures one needs to be considered legitimate.
In this case, in order to be a Republican candidate for commissioner on the May ballot, Uible needed at least 50 signatures.
The ruling stems from a complaint brought to the board by Chris Hicks, candidate for county auditor, and Tommie Bixler, candidate for county commissioner.
Hicks made headlines last summer after being kicked out of a Board of County Commissioners meeting by Uible after raising questions about Uible’s activities with the Clermont County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Among Hicks’ allegations is that Uible and the CVB tried to woo FC Cincinnati to setup a practice facility in the county via a hotel lodging tax.
Hicks is suing the Clermont County Board of Commissioners in United States District, Southern District of Ohio, Western Division. There’s also a case at the Ohio Supreme Court brought by Hicks against the CVB.
Members of the Board of Elections are Raymond Lembke, who serves as chair, and Rick Combs and Larry Heller. Former member Paul Campbell retired in January.
Lembke largely conducted the proceedings in front of a packed crowd at the Board of Elections building on 76 South Riverside Drive.
“But it is true that this board has an independent duty when information is brought to our attention to investigate irregularities and potential non-compliance with Ohio’s election laws and such information has been brought to our attention,” Lembke said. “An issue has been raised with respect to one of the part-petitions submitted on behalf of Mr. David Uible to appear on the Republican Party primary ballot May 8th for the office of county commissioner.”
Lembke said the board has a duty and obligation to go forward, given the timeliness of the issue since ballots, by Ohio statute, are frozen in place 60 days out from an election. The meeting wasn’t considered a hearing, Lembke noted, but rather the board conducting its “investigatory authority.”
The board dismissed Hicks’ and Bixler’s initial protest that David Uible and another candidate for commissioner, Michael Collins, stated the wrong commencement date on their petition for the position they were running for (Jan. 2, 2019 instead of Jan. 1, 2019). The board argued that since only one commissioner is to be elected on the ballot in November, it wasn’t disqualifying to get the date wrong.
And as it happens, on the board of elections website, according to BOE Deputy Director Chris Dennison, Jan. 2, 2019 was erroneously on the website. The site had both the correct and incorrect dates on the website as of early February prior to the filing deadline.
Even so, it’s the candidate’s job to ensure the information is accurate, Dennison said.
“The candidate for that office is to fill them out and sign as to the validity of all the information,” he said. “The website is not held to be absolute — we make every effort, of course, to put out correct information — but it is the responsibility of the candidate to find their correct information.”
The board ruled both Collins’ and Uible’s petitions, with respect to the commencement date, were compliant. The term date isn’t required by Ohio statute, Lembke said. In other words, it wasn’t disqualifying to erroneously put down a date a candidate wasn’t required to give anyway.
The second and ultimately disqualifying issue, regarded the signatures.
James Kidwell, one of Uible’s circulators of a part-petition, was subpoenaed to appear before the board and was sworn in to speak under oath.
Kidwell was asked by Lembke to look at the part-petition Kidwell circulated and if the name and signature at the bottom was his.
On the petition form, underneath the signatures gathered and the date on which they were gathered, is a Circulator Statement that states, “I, [Name of Circulator], declare under penalty of election falsification that I reside at the address appearing below my signature; that I am a member of the [Political Party]; that I am the circulator of the foregoing containing [Number] signatures; that I witnessed the affixing of every signature…”
And underneath that statement is a signed signature.
“That is my name,” Kidwell said. “Yes, that’s my signature.”
“Mr. Kidwell, would you look over the signatures that are on the petition. My question to you is going to be: Did you personally observe each one of those people signing a petition?” Lembke said.
“I don’t know,” Kidwell said. “You have to understand, this was the night of the endorsement, I had people I was representing trying to get endorsements done. This was done as a secondary thing. I didn’t really pay attention to who we were really speaking to, we were trying to work the room, get as many people as we could, talk to them before the meeting started. I can’t answer that. I assume that my name’s on there and these people were on the petition.”
“You don’t know if you personally observed all those signatures put on the petition, is that what I should understand you to be saying?” Lembke said.
“I really do not know,” Kidwell said. “Whether I observed all these or not, I can’t tell you. I’m sorry.”
Lembke then asked Kidwell about the number of signatures written into the Circulator’s Statement, which showed 29 signatures, and asked Kidwell if he wrote that number.
“No, David took it, I signed it and he said, ‘I’ll fill the rest out and he filled it out,” Kidwell said.
The endorsement meeting Kidwell referenced was Jan. 17. However, other signatures with dates on the petition are the 24th and the 25th of January, including from current commissioners Ed Humphrey and David Painter, dated the 24th.
“I was only involved during the 17th,” Kidwell said. “Everybody knows that knows me that I was in Florida the six weeks after the endorsement.”
In other words, Kidwell could not have gotten those signatures in question.
“Well, I’ve got some concerns here, folks. We’ve got signatures here dated the 24th and the 25th of January and I’m hearing Kidwell say he wasn’t even in the state then,” Lambke said. “As I understand the law, we cannot accept this part-petition, the entire part-petition goes.”
Lembke, Heller and Combs all voted yes to disqualify the part petition, which then effectively disqualified Uible from appearing on the May 8, 2018 Republican primary ballot for county commissioner because he fell under the 50 needed signatures.
“A couple of things just to be clear: All the board found was that there was a non-compliance with a statutory requirements applicable to a part petition for somebody to get on — in this case Mr. Uible — to appear as a candidate on the May 8th Republican primary ballot,” Lembke said. “This board has not made any determination with respect to any falsification, fraud, criminal violations. We have not, up through our actions today, done that.”
Lembke continued, “I would also say, with respect to our earlier issues; please, the take away from our decisions on the issue of the start dates for the term for Mr. Collins and Mr. Uible’s petitions, the takeaway from that should not be, it’s okay, close counts. No, no, no.”
There are different requirements for different circumstances, per the Ohio statute, Lembke said. For instance, he said, in 2020, two commissioner seats will be open, which would make the start date issue might be more applicable.
“So, please don’t walk out of here thinking this board thinks close counts. You need to be very, very, very careful any time a petition is being filed for a candidate or an issue to make sure all that information on there is accurate. Sometimes, we’re all human, we all make mistakes, sometimes a mistake can be, non-technical term, ‘forgiven,’ but not all the time,” Lembke said.
Toward the end of the meeting, Kidwell stood up to state that he collected the signatures in good faith and he felt his hard work should not be changed by one “small section of this petition.”
“I assure you the ones that have my date on them, everyone that knows me knows I’m an honest person and I collected them in good faith and I really am disturbed with the fact that they’re not counting for somebody I believe should be able to run for commissioner,” Kidwell said.
Lembke said elections laws allow no discretion; they can’t accept that part petition if the circulator’s statement is inaccurate.
“My personal orientation is that the voters should get as much choice as they possibly can,” he said. “We do not sit on this board looking for reasons to keep people off of the ballot. To the contrary, we are looking for reasons to allow people on the ballot. It’s not up to us who serves this county…that is up to the people of Clermont County and the state of Ohio.”
Uible did not appear at the meeting because he was already previously scheduled to be out of town, according to his lawyer. As of print time, Uible has not responded to request for comment from The Sun.
The other candidates for county commissioner are Claire Corcoran and Doug Young, both Republicans.
After the meeting, Hicks was pleased with the outcome.
“A new era is going to start in Clermont County,” he said.
Also running against Hicks for County Auditor, with a term that begins on March 11, 2019, are Elaine Barnett and incumbent Linda Fraley.