WARREN — The Trumbull County Board of Elections decided not to pursue criminal investigations against 41 people who voted twice during the November election, determining they were confused about the process rather than doing it with malicious intent.
The board voted 4-0 Tuesday to not forward the cases to the sheriff’s office.
In the election, 16 people voted at the board’s early voting center and then by mail, and 25 more voted either at the center or by mail and then went to their polling locations to vote again.
All of the double votes were detected, said Stephanie Penrose, board director.
“It was more confusion than trying to vote twice,” she said.
Board Chairman Mark Alberini added the board doesn’t “have any strong evidence or indications this was an attempt at fraudulent voting.”
At its Jan. 12 meeting, the board voted to get a formal written opinion on the issues from the county prosecutor’s office.
In a letter to the board, William Danso, an assistant county prosecutor, wrote that after discussing the issue with Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, they decided “it would be best for the board to filter which matters it chooses to refer to the Trumbull County sheriff for investigation.
In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the overall rate of criminal investigations in Trumbull County, it is our understanding that the sheriff’s office already faces a large workload. Further, from the Ohio secretary of state down to the local board of elections, Ohio officials have expressed confidence in the 2020 election.”
Danso added: “With the large voter turnout and navigating the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was foreseeable that some voters could misunderstand procedure and make unintentional errors.”
If the board believes a “particular voter has made a specific attempt to engage in fraudulent voting, has attempted to change the outcome of an election or has worked in combination with others to attempt to fraudulently vote, we do not believe it is necessary to refer every case for further criminal investigation. In any of these specific cases mentioned herein, it would be appropriate to refer the matter for additional criminal investigation.”
The board decided Tuesday that none of the 41 cases deserved to be investigated.
At Alberini’s request, the board called for staff to create a database of those who try to vote twice to determine if there’s a pattern among specific voters.
The board voted Tuesday to certify all primary election candidates who submitted petitions as well as the two school tax issues and a liquor option.
Only 56 of the county’s 158 precincts will be open for the May 4 primary election, Penrose said. That’s because the candidates are only running in cities and villages, and with several unopposed, there won’t be votes in many of those uncontested races.
The only candidate to receive any discussion about issues with nominating petitions was Lily Martuccio, an incumbent Democrat running for re-election to an at-large seat on Girard City Council.
Martuccio’s petition erroneously states the primary is May 3.
After discussing it with the prosecutor’s office, Penrose said Martuccio’s petition should be validated as she “wasn’t trying to deceived anybody” by using the wrong date.
The board decided that it will end the practice of having half of the eight-person staff work for three days and have the other half stay at home, with pay, and then have the groups switch because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The policy was in effect in December, and started again Jan. 19 and will end Friday.
Staff members can’t access the board’s computer network expert Billy Xiong because of cybersecurity issues related to voters when they are home.
“As much as I’d like to protect the health and safety of employees, it’s not realistic” to continue the policy, Penrose said. “We need to go to full staff. It was beneficial, but workload has to take precedence over that. We need to work on this election.”