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Election Day should go OK despite Morgan County's loss of employees

September 24, 2011
By Evan Bevins ( , The Marietta Times

The Morgan County Board of Elections is preparing for Election Day without any full-time employees, but officials are confident the voting process will go smoothly this November.

The board's deputy director left in July and the director left about three weeks ago, both for better-paying jobs, said Mary Anna Wallace, a member of the elections board. Both had worked there for about a year-and-a-half.

"We were very happy with our two employees, but we also understand their positions," Wallace said.

The employees were being paid $11.50 an hour for 25 hours of work per week. Two individuals hired to replace them are making $10 an hour for 24 hours of work each week. They do not receive benefits.

"We're trying to get by on (24 hours a week) but it's very hard," Wallace said. "We make a lot of phone calls and we go down to the office. ... We've hired outside help to help us get through this."

Election board member Louise Pennock said the bills haven't all come in on the outside help and training for the new workers, neither of whom has experience working an election in the office.

Fact Box

2011 election

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

The last day to register to vote is Tuesday, Oct. 11.

The first day of early, absentee voting depends on whether opponents of a recent election law change get enough signatures to put a referendum on next year's ballot. The deadline for signatures is Thursday, Sept. 29.

If enough signatures are obtained, the changes will be put on hold and early voting will start Tuesday, Oct. 4.

If the required number of signatures is not met, the new law will go into effect and early voting will begin Oct. 20.

Source: Times research.

Salaries have been a point of contention between the board and the Morgan County Commission for more than a year, with the board filing two lawsuits over the amount of funding allocated by commissioners. Both sides are awaiting a decision by Noble County Common Pleas Court Judge John Nau in the most recent suit.

The first suit was filed last year after the board's salary line item was depleted. The board had raised the employees' salaries to $16 an hour for 32 hours of work each week, but the commissioners budgeted for 25 hours a week at a lower rate.

Pennock said the predecessors in the office left in 2009 with salaries of $15.50 an hour and that the recently departed employees did their own IT work, which saved money on contract expenses.

The current rates were set in a judge's ruling last year. The commissioners budgeted the office for an amount that would require the same salaries this year, so the board filed suit again, seeking more pay and hours for the workers.

"We were even willing to compromise and go back to 1998's starting salary," said Wallace, adding that that amount was about $13.50 an hour.

No date has been set for a ruling. Pennock said the current workers would move into the positions full time once their pay and hours are set.

Commissioner Mike Reed said the ruling would only apply to the current year but he hopes the battle doesn't have to be fought again in 2012.

"I just hope it ends here," he said.

Pennock said it might not.

"If they can't cooperate with us, I'm not going to rule out the possibility that we will go again," she said.

In spite of the turmoil, Pennock, Wallace and Reed remain optimistic about the upcoming election.

"I think they've got some good people down there," Reed said. "I have all the confidence in the world in the board and their employees."

He said the court battle is about finances, not personalities.

Pennock said the process has cost the county more than $17,000 in legal fees so far.

Matt McClellan, press secretary for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, the state's highest election official, said the office is concerned about the situation in Morgan County.

"We have been providing guidance when requested," he said.



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