Poll workers at precinct 420 in Lake Township followed the rules as they were trained during the special election Aug. 7, according to the Wood County Board of Elections, which responded to questions raised by the Lake school board and administration.
In a statement released last week, the elections board emphasizes that no one was turned away from the polling site and that workers were following election rules properly until the board received an opinion from the Ohio Secretary of State office.
When Lee Herman, Lake High School principal, went to vote shortly after 7 a.m. at the precinct in the township administration building, he was wearing a dark blue short-sleeved shirt with the Lake logo.
He said he was told by precinct workers he’d have to cover the shirt, take it off, or turn the shirt inside out, or he wouldn’t be allowed to vote.
The shirt made no reference to a levy issue that was on the ballot.
One section of the poll worker manual contributed to the confusion. It reads: “Candidates/campaigners are allowed to vote, of course, but they must NOT wear any electioneering clothes or accessories while in the polling location.”
Herman, at a press conference held later, said he complied with the poll workers but believed he would have been turned away if he hadn’t.
School officials said they contacted the Ohio Secretary of State’s office and the board of elections for clarification of the rule but fear other voters wearing Lake apparel may have become frustrated and opted to not vote while the board was awaiting an opinion from the secretary of state.
The Ohio Revised Code says: “…during an election and the counting of the ballots, no person shall… solicit or in any manner attempt to influence any elector in casting the elector’s vote.”
The elections board statement says the law has been implemented through a rule that any emblem that could be interpreted as advocating for a candidate or issue wouldn’t be allowed into a polling place.
“This rule did not prohibit, nor has if ever been used, to deny a person the right to vote. It has been used to ensure a polling place that is consistent with the law and free from political solicitation thereby allowing voters to cast their ballots privately and uninterrupted,” the statement says. “The Secretary of State’s office provided an interpretation that it was permissible to wear clothing with the school’s emblem as long as the clothing did not advocate a specific vote on the levy. After that inquiry, those with a Lake emblem were allowed to enter into the polling station without obstructing the view of the emblem.”
The elections board received the opinion by 9:30 a.m., said Terry Burton, a board director.
Voters approved the 6.75-mill operating by 137 votes: 1,501 for to 1,364 against, according to unofficial results.
Jim Witt, school superintendent, said he was glad the confusion has been cleared up.
“While we were initially surprised by the decision of the local poll workers, we are pleased that the Secretary of State and the Wood County Board of Elections cleared up any confusion in a quick and efficient manner,” he said. “We are happy with the results of the election and we are moving forward with the business of education students.”