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The Summit County Board of Elections has a new director.
It's Republican Joe Masich of Green. Masich replaces Ron Koehler, who was told last month by Republican board members that they intended to appoint someone else.
Koehler attended the beginning of the meeting, then shook hands with Deputy Director Kim Zurz and left the board room immediately after Masich was sworn in.
Masich resigned as the court administrator for Summit County Common Pleas Court - Probate Division.
"It's going to be a difficult thing with the cuts, but I've always dealt well with the county and administration in my previous position and with county council and the executive and their finance department," said Masich.
Masich worked at the board of elections for a couple of years in the 1980's and now takes the top non-board position about 21 hours before the polls open for the primary election.
"I'm sure that with the deputy director and Mr. Koehler, my predecessor here, that they've prepared for tomorrow as they done in the past," said Masich.
The position pays $106,090 per year.
The Summit County Elections Board will undergo a reorganization this spring, but current Elections Director Ron Koehler will not be part of the plan.
Koehler submitted his resignation in the form of a letter to election board members....
"I was informed that the Republican board members do not intend to nominate me to be the director for the next two year period," Koehler told AkronNewsNow.com. "And the law provides that the director has to be nominated by a board member of the same party.
Koehler says he thinks the board and its workers did a good job over his nearly two years on the job, but he says the director and employees serve at the pleasure of the board.
Koehler says he will work up until March 5th, the day before the primary election, and the Board will name a new director and deputy director that day.
Ray Weber, a Republican member of the Summit County Board of Elections, tells AkronNewsNow.com that the March 5th reorganization gives the board a chance to look in a new, more efficient direction.
"We've decided to take this opportunity in reorganization to look for someone in that position that can help us a little bit more in streamlining our operation."
Koehler denies that the current elections board budget battle with county council and the county executive led to his exit from the board.
He leaves as the elections board prepares for the March 6th primary, and battles with Summit County Council and the Executive over this year's elections board budget.
People other than Republicans may wish they had a voice in the Republican presidential scramble, mainly between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. It was similar four years ago on the Democrat side, when everybody seemed to have an opinion on the standoff between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton.
Switching parties is as easy as asking for the appropriate ballot when you vote in the primary election. In fact, Summit County Board of Elections Director Ron Koehler says it's even simpler now than it was in 2008 because a state-issued form is now optional.
"Our current secretary of state says that form is to be used rarely, only when the elections official has personal knowledge of that person's affiliation with a party and that they're changing," said Koehler.
The form does require a signature stating that you are a member of that party and will uphold its ideals.
Republicans and Democrats, together and alone, are far outnumbered by non-party voters. Despite interest in the presidential race, Koehler predicts that few people will become a Republican because of it.
Ohioans get their first chance to vote in the state's primary election Tuesday.
The election will be held March 6, but early voters can cast ballots at the Summit County Board of Elections offices on Grant Street in Akron Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.
"We think we'll be able to take care of the people that will be coming in for walk-in voting without much difficulty for this primary election," said Board Director Ron Koehler.
He says they'll have 10 voting stations set up inside the lobby with the ability to bring in more if demand is higher than anticipated.
There are usually far fewer contested Republican races for Summit County voters to consider than the number of Democrats that go head-to-head. This election, however, the nation is watching the hotly contested campaigns of Republican presidential hopefuls. Koehler says interest in that race will prompt plenty of people to case ballots.
There are other reasons to vote, too. There's a contested Republican primary for U.S. Senator, contested Democratic primaries for Summit County Sheriff and Summit County Prosecutor, in addition to contested races for various Ohio Supreme Court, Ohio House and U.S. Congressional seats.
Norton city leaders are asking for more money to pay for safety services. Woodridge voters will determine a school levy.
Koehler says people can also ask the board to mail a ballot to them.
"Yes, and it takes care of the problem of waiting in line," said Koehler
The deadline to register to vote in the primary election is February 6.
The Summit County Board of Elections is taking a closer look at its budget, now that the county is divvying out much less than the board requested.
The elections board requested $9.6 million to operate in 2012. The county offered only $4.7 million.
Board Chairman Tim Gorbach says firmer estimates are needed from employees to determine things like overtime and temporary staffing so everything is lined up for the primary election in March.
"There are a lot of deadlines and we can't just decide that we'll put that work off until later," said Gorbach.
Specifically, issues such as properly entering information from 27,000 voter registration cards and matching signatures to prevent voter fraud, are among the assignments underway now. Board staffers admit they're behind. Board Director Ron Koehler and Deputy Director Kim Zurz seemed to agree that in addition to lower staffing levels, there are too many employees who are simply not pulling their weight.
Listen below as Alex Arshinkoff, then Tim Gorbach weigh in during today's meeting
Elections Board by AkronNewsNow
"I don't like the tail wagging the dog," said Gorbach. "If there are employees here who feel they are above doing certain things or do not do things because that's what the part timers are supposed to do, you have my full blessings to get that under control."
Board member Alex Arshinkoff said there are plenty of people who would take the jobs of those who under perform. He also told Zurz, to come up with and analyze productivity reports.
Staffing is one of the areas pointed out by county officials as a reduction target, mainly that there is too much duplication - a Republican and Democrat for too many positions. While the elections board doesn't seem to think too many employees is the problem, a more critical look at the quality of employees appears to be up for further discussion.
Zurz told board members that she and Koehler are doing a better job of obtaining temporary staff members who are qualified and capable of doing the clerical tasks that they're hired to do. She says they've spent too much time correcting mistakes made by the temporary help.
The budget gap between Summit County executive Russ Pry and the county board of elections couldn't be much wider.
Monday night, county council and Pry staffers grilled elections board director Ron Koehler on why the agency is asking for nearly $9.3 million dollars for the 2012 budget year.
Pry's proposed budget for the elections board would be $4.7 million dollars.
Koehler said costs to hold elections are going up, from higher postage to more mail-in ballots, and the board is looking at an extra primary that could take place next year.
Pry's chief of staff Jason Dodson says the board should study counties of similar size - like Lucas and Montgomery - for some cost saving guidance.
"I believe that there are certain things that Montgomery County is doing...that is going to be able to help," Dodson tells AkronNewsNow.com, "that allows them to operate at a lower cost, at a more efficient level when you look at costs per voter, and costs per ballot cast."
Summit Board Of Elections Budget by Akron NewsNow
Koehler says since he started as director in May, Summit County has been busy holding five elections.
"It's been election after election after election," Koehler tells AkronNewsNow.com. "I've not had time to go down to Lucas County or Montgomery County to look at their operation, and see how we can do things like them and save money."
Koehler says the board is always looking for more efficiencies. He says he needs the money to run three elections in 2012, But his pleas weren't getting a warm reception in council chambers.
Dodson says the county may break off funding for a second primary to a separate fund, if there is a second, June primary. The reimbursement to cover it would be from the state of Ohio. But he says the main budget for the 2012 budget year should cover the primaries that will definitely take place.
The Board of Elections was one of the last agencies making budget presentations. County council is expected to pass a yearly budget next Monday night, in a combined committee and full council meeting that's the last regularly scheduled meeting of 2011.
The Summit County Board of Elections is planning to put a big dent in the county budget. Director Ron Kohler says he needs about $9.3-million - a far cry from the $4.7-million that the county was planning to allocate. Koehler says action by the state legislature is to blame.
"They've split the primary into two elections - a March primary and a June primary - so we're going to have three countywide elections in 2012," said Koehler.
Ron Koehler with Larry States by Akron NewsNow
Koehler says an extra primary election means a lot of extra expenses: ballot printing, overtime costs, paying poll workers and more. In addition, the state is mandating that all voters receive postage-paid absentee ballot envelopes, but Koehler says it's not about the price of postage.
"The time that's involved in processing a mail-in absentee ballot request and then the ballot itself is a lot more than the time involved in processing a walk-in voter or processing a voter who comes to the polls on election day," said Koehler.
He says it's about three times as long.
There is good news that comes with the new mandate: The state plans to reimburse counties some of the cost of conducting the extra primary election.
As the elections board likely sends the county into a frenzy over how they're going to come up with the requested funds (there is little choice in the matter), much of the extra planning could be for nothing since state lawmakers are trying to work out a deal that would cancel the second primary election and have only one, which would be held in March.
Koehler will formally present his budget needs to a county council committee next week.
There should be plenty of ballots to count when the election polls close tonight at 7:30.
Summit County Board of Elections Director Ron Koehler says there are plenty of indications that voter turnout will be high.
"We're hearing reports from our troubleshooters that are out there and our booth workers who are calling us that turnout is very good today," said Koehler at around 2:30 p.m.
He says up to 15% of registered voters had already cast ballots in New Franklin and Green "by mid-morning."
AkronNewsNow reported earlier today that a higher-than-usual number of voters had checked in at precincts in Akron Wards 1 and 8.
At Fairlawn Lutheran Church, elections workers say they had lines occasionally this morning, but it had calmed down after lunch.
Turnout also seemed unusually high in the Woodridge and Nordonia Hills School Districts, where voters are determining additional operating levies as well as some precincts in Norton.
Koehler says there have been a "few minor problems" that were all quickly resolved by the board's 23-member team of troubleshooters.
The polls are open in Summit County for the 2011 general election.
One of the biggest problems that voters and elections staffers encounter on election day, according to Summit County Board of Elections Director Ron Koehler, is that some people don't know where to go to cast their ballot.
"If a person has moved and not notified us of their current address, we would like them to call us so that they know and we know that we're getting them to the right place to vote," said Koehler.
Koehler says a lot of voters may notice something a little different they they take a good look at today's ballots.
"In 273 of our 475 precincts there are write-in candidates that are on the ballot. We don't see that too often."
Heavily courted during the presidential and gubernatorial elections, younger voters weren't in the forefront this time around. AkronNewsNow talked to a handful of University of Akron students, some who say they have good reasons to vote and others who aren't interested.
"Every little bit counts," said Morgan Schneider. "You could counteract someone who's going against it or going for the cause. Every vote counts."
Fellow student Brian Dyce won't be following that line of thinking today.
"It's just not something that I'm particularly interested in right now," said Dyce.
The polls are open until 7:30 p.m.
If you have questions, call the Summit County Board of Elections at 330.643.5200.
Voters in Summit County have started casting their votes for the November election and today marks the last day to turn in absentee ballots.
This year, early voting is not available over the weekend after recent changes to the state law that has restricted the voting deadline.
Summit County Board of Elections Director Ron Koehler says despite the changes, early voter turnout has increased.
Koehler says that out of the 24,500 requests, they have already received nearly 17,000 absentee ballots.
"There has been a lot of talk and a lot of advertising about this election, so we are expecting this to be a higher turnout than your average municipal general election," Koehler said.
The Summit County Board of Elections office on 470 Grant Street will be open for walk-in voting today until 6 p.m.
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