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Election fraud rumors cleared

BY CAROLINE EGGERS - ceggers@perutribune.com

The Miami County Election Board cleared the air regarding election fraud during a public hearing in the Miami County Courthouse on Thursday morning.  

Following a series of events inside the Courthouse and a whirlwind of resulting rumors, the election board felt the need to address the issue publicly.

“Members of this board feel that the integrity of both party chairmen, the election board members, two absentee board members, two travel board members, the Clerk, and the Clerk’s employees have all had their integrity and honesty brought into question over unsubstantiated allegations and distrust of the system that has been in place for years,” said Chairman Richard Lancaster.

The election board also includes member and Clerk of Courts Tawna Leffel-Sands, and member Diana Smiley.

Early voting began on Tuesday, April 10. The process looks something like this: Miami County residents scan their driver’s licenses or state issued ID cards, electronically sign a tablet, and select their candidates in MicroVote booths.

Two members of the Absentee Board, one Republican and one Democrat – each selected by a respective party leader, trained and sworn in – scan the ballots into the computer and write the ballot into a log. They do not participate in counting ballots.

The election board tallies the ballots, which are recorded electronically, according to Leffel-Sands.

“There’s so many checks and balances,” she said.

“There is no way that anybody could go in there and take any of those ballots out because we have really, really put a lot of safeguards in place to make sure, according to the law, that we have none of this shenanigans that we’re being accused of,” Lancaster said.

According to Lancaster, here is a synopsis of the different events leading up to the hearing:

On April 3, Miami County Chief Deputy Prosecutor and Miami County Prosecutor candidate Jeff Sinkovics came into the voting office, while Leffel-Sands was in a meeting, and asked if Leffel-Sands was able to “take or throw away Absentee Ballots if she saw they were Jeff Sinkovics’ supporters,” or if the clerk’s employees could do the same, Lancaster said.

“He also indicated that he was being convinced that if he lost the election it would be because someone in the Clerk’s Office threw the election,” Lancaster said.

Sinkovics later disputed this, and said he had confidence in the election process – he just wanted to ask questions.

Sinkovics said he did not want to be made the bad guy, and that he has put his entire career and “heart and soul” into the campaign.

Sinkovics said he didn’t question anyone’s integrity or accuse them of any wrongdoing, but he thought the situation was “improper.”

He said it was a unique election because his opponent’s wife is running the election.  Leffel-Sands is married to Christian Sands, a local attorney and Miami County Prosecutor candidate.

Leffel-Sands is in charge of voter registration and serves on the election board, but she recused herself from counting ballots because “I knew accusations would come out,” she said. Legally, she did not have to recuse herself.

On April 10, Sinkovics filed a formal, written complaint with Deputy Clerk Mary Kaye Jones regarding the absentee board.

“I feel uneasy with the fact that two Chris Sands supporters (openly wearing his shirts) are going to be working this election and counting absentee ballots,” Sinkovics wrote.

The two women in question were Absentee Board Members Kay Smalley and Linda Comerford.

Neither of them have ever worn Sands T-shirts inside of the Courthouse or while working, and the election board tallies ballots, according to Lancaster.

On April 10, Sinkovics stopped an absentee board member in the hallway and showed her a picture of herself. She confirmed it was her.

“That worker felt targeted and intimidated,” Lancaster said.

The board set a meeting for April 13.

On April 10, Miami County Prosecutor Bruce Embrey called the Democratic Party chair and Republican Party chair and spoke about his concerns of the process.

On April 12, Sinkovics requested in writing that the hearing be delayed so he can have additional time to prepare.

“The board felt the need to get this heard as soon as possible since we are voting every day,” Lancaster said. “The meeting remains as set and Mr. Sinkovics was also notified.”

On April 12, Embrey came to the voter registration office and voiced his concerns to two of the board members.

“The newspaper said Kay was part of the travel board and that’s why Jeff made the complaint based off that. The complaint was made on Tuesday, the 10th, and the paper (article) came out Wednesday, the 11th,” Lancaster said.

Kay Smalley is not a member of the Election Traveling Board, as was previously reported on April 11.

Linda Comerford is a member of the Election Traveling Board.

In a discussion immediately following the synopsis, Embrey said there was the “appearance of impropriety.”

“You’d be kind of stupid to not be concerned about them voting ballots for people in nursing homes,” Embrey said.

He later said he has faith in the ladies.

Addressing Embrey’s words, Lancaster said “you have impugned the integrity of those people that work in that office.”

Embrey said that was not his intention.

On April 13, Sinkovics filed a letter addressed to Jones saying that he was withdrawing his request for a hearing and the meeting was canceled.

Skinkovics later said he did research after he initially filed a complaint and discovered there was nothing illegal going on.

“I am convinced that no one can alter the results of the election,” Sinkovics said. “I asked questions and I was satisfied with the answers. I should be able to ask questions.”

“To me, that should have been the end of that,” he said.

But the election board felt the need to address the need publicly, as they did not feel the issue was resolved due to recurring rumors, according to Lancaster.

They especially felt the need to address the honesty and integrity of both poll workers in question, Smalley and Comerford, who were both present during the meeting.

“I’m very sorry that the girls have been put in this position,” Smiley said. “I just believe that had we understood the rules or even asked to see the rules… that this all could have been taken care of. We have every bit of faith in these girls or we would never have put them in there.”

“I know Linda real well, she’s outstanding, she would rather die than do something wrong, that’s Linda,” Smiley said. “(Smalley) was crushed to think that people thought she was doing anything wrong,”

“I’m sorry that you girls had to go through this,” Leffel-Sands said. “It’s a sad situation that accusations get thrown out there that are unsubstantiated.”  

“This is the first time we’ve had multiple people’s integrity come into question,” Leffel-Sands later said.

According to Republican Party Chair Ethan Manning – who was not at the meeting – poll workers receive training on how to use the e-poll books and voting machines, and information regarding laws and regulations.

“For all poll workers, the question is not asked about which candidate they are supporting in a particular race,” he said.

Manning also said Comerford, the Republican poll worker, has been on the traveling board for a long time, and Secretary of State Connie Lawson previously awarded Comerford “Poll Worker of the Year” for her “length of service and having gone above and beyond the call of duty.”

“We go out of our way to make sure those people (the voters) have what they want on the paper,” Comerford said during the meeting.  

After the meeting, Lancaster said that the ladies are picked and are very generous to accept the positions of moral and legal responsibility.

“That is a federal offense if they do what was accused, they could go to prison for that,” Lancaster said. “These ladies did nothing wrong.”

“We have never had a chance to be in public and discuss this whole thing with the facts,” Lancaster said afterwards.

The public only had rumors, so Lancaster said they needed to have a consensus of what’s right and wrong.