Board of elections director calls ex-worker's allegations 'baseless'

Cary Ashby • Jul 4, 2014 at 11:35 PM

Sharon Locke, director of the Huron County Board of Elections, said the allegations against her and deputy director Tom Gerrity are "baseless," absurd and possibly vindictive.

"In summary, the board has reviewed each allegation and believe(s) that they are baseless and very likely vindictive and retaliatory," Locke said.

Locke has sent a letter to the office of Jon Husted, Ohio secretary of state, and released it to the Norwalk Reflector, which broke the story. In her letter dated Tuesday, Locke outlined each of the allegations made by former board employee Amy Maestas.

Maestas, who was fired June 25, has mailed a letter to Husted's office in which she leveled serious accusations of wrongdoing against Locke and Gerrity. Maestas was hired part-time in 2007 and full-time in 2010.

"Ms. Maestas was terminated ... for poor job performance. The board discussed Ms. Maestas' unsatisfactory performance with her over a two-year period until finally terminating her employment on June 25, 2014 at an 11:30 a.m. board meeting," Locke said in her letter.

"The board only became aware of Ms. Maestas' letter late in the afternoon of June 25, 2014 when given a copy by a reporter from the Norwalk Reflector. The board believes the allegations are baseless and appear to be vindictive and retaliatory," Locke said.

"Furthermore, at no time prior to her termination did Ms. Maestas report her concerns to the staff, the members of the board of elections, the Huron County prosecutor or the office of the secretary of state. If Ms. Maestas believed these allegations to be true, this is a clear violation of Ms. Maestas' oath of office and should have been reported at the time of occurrence," Locke continued.

The board, upon receiving Maestas' letter, forwarded a copy to secretary of state regional liaison, Marilyn Jacobcik, and secretary of state legal counsel, Brandi Seskes. Husted's office received the letter last week.

"Although the issues are allegations at this point, the office will be investigating the matter to gather all the facts. From that point, we'll decide how to proceed," spokesman Matt McClellan told the Reflector.

Husted's spokesman has declined to speculate on what might happen until investigators had gathered all the facts.

Addressing each allegation

Locke's letter addresses each of the allegations against the board of elections.

"Contrary to Ms. Maestas' statement that there were 'elections' in November of 2012, there was only one election. Ms. Maestas alleged that during the November 2012 election the deputy director did not upload a memory card from one of the absentee TSX machines correctly. The deputy director was not involved in the uploading of memory cards during the unofficial canvass on election night of November, 2012," she wrote.

Locke, a Democrat, and at least one board member of the Republican party upload the memory cards in the tabulation room on election nights.

"I'm in charge of that," she said, adding often there are many board members are in the room.

"I'm never back there by myself," Locke said in an interview Tuesday. "There are many things that require a person of each political party to do. We follow those rules very closely."

Locke discussed what happens during the "official canvass" in her letter. In what's known as the official canvass, 10 days after the election, board members verify the provisional votes and the voters' information so they can be included in the official results.

"During the official canvass, both the deputy director and I upload memory cards together. There were 227 memory cards that were downloaded and every card that was downloaded was uploaded for both the unofficial and the official canvass," Locke said in her letter.

"Ms. Maestas further alleged that she overheard and was later told by me that Mr. Gerrity did not upload the memory card correctly and this resulted in over 3,000 votes being lost. I did not tell Ms. Maestas that Mr. Gerrity uploaded a memory card incorrectly or that over 3,000 votes were lost as a result.

"This allegation is impossible as there were only 2,565 total in-person absentee voters for the November 2012 general election and these votes were spread over eight TSX units that were in use in the office. Our voter tabulation system (GEMS) and the voter registration system (DIMS) are two different computer programs whose results must match at the end of each election, which they did. Her accusation is absurd and unfounded," Locke wrote.

"Ms. Maestas' second allegation, regarding the May 2013 election dealing with 96 test votes that were not properly cleared from a memory card after logic and accuracy testing, was addressed at our May 22, 2013 board meeting. It was documented in approved minutes that are on record with our office and sent to your (Husted's) staff after board approval," the director said.

"The fact of the matter is that Ms. Maestas was one of the staff members who did not ensure the memory card was properly cleared after the logic and accuracy testing. Ms. Maestas was also one of the staff members who should have caught this error when the memory card was installed in our TSX unit used to program voter ballots. When this error was realized while preparing for the official canvass, the card was properly cleared and uploaded and it resulted in a change of vote totals between the unofficial and official canvass."

Locke also addressed the third allegation regarding the Reflector interviewing Gerrity about the May election.

"The deputy director spoke with the reporter about an email that the reporter received from a voter who received an incorrect ballot at a specific polling location. The week after the election during the balancing of books, in preparation for the official canvass, it was confirmed by office staff that in a minimal number of locations incorrect ballots were issued and that the problem was addressed by precinct election officials by early morning. We believe the impact to be minimal. This issue was addressed at the May 21, 2014 board meeting as documented in approved minutes that are on record with our office and sent to your staff after board approval," Locke wrote.

"In conclusion, the Huron County Board of Elections and staff take their oaths of office very seriously. We strive daily to see that elections in Huron County are conducted in a fair, transparent and open manner," she said.

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