Cincinnati's mayoral primary: Board of Elections decides blogger eligible to cast ballot

CINCINNATI -- Local elections officials decided Monday that a website operator did nothing improper when he cast an early ballot in Cincinnati’s mayoral primary election.

The Hamilton County Board of Elections voted 3-1 to dismiss a complaint filed against Randy Simes.

Tim Burke and Caleb Faux, the Democratic members of the board, were joined by Chip Gerhardt, a Republican, in dismissing the complaint.

Alex Triantafilou, the board’s other Republican, cast the sole dissenting vote.

Late last month the Ohio Voter Integrity Project filed a voter registration challenge against Simes. It alleged Simes improperly cast an early voting ballot in July for the Sept. 10 mayoral primary, while also being registered to vote in Chicago.

Mary Siegel, of the Voter Integrity Project, had said multiple social media postings by Simes before and after he cast the ballot indicate he still lived in Chicago at the time.

Under Ohio law, a person’s primary residence must be in the jurisdiction where a ballot is cast for at least 30 days before the election.

Simes is operator of the UrbanCincy blog and a planner with the Parsons Brinckerhoff consulting firm.

But Simes’ attorney, Don Mooney, argued that his client – a Cincinnati native -- changed his home address to a friend’s Over-the-Rhine condominium and registered to vote here in anticipation of a two-year work assignment in South Korea. Simes intends to return to the Queen City once the assignment is completed, Mooney added.

The argument was convincing enough for a majority of the Board of Elections’ members. The situation is similar to employees at firms like Procter & Gamble and General Electric who take an overseas deployment but keep a U.S. address, Faux said.

Reached via email in South Korea after Monday’s vote, Simes said he felt vindicated by the board’s decision.

“The facts spoke for themselves and the Hamilton County Board of Elections acknowledged that in their bipartisan ruling,” Simes wrote.

In his email, Simes also criticized the Voter Integrity Project, which has ties to various tea party groups. Critics have alleged the effort is designed to intimidate liberal-leaning voters.

“While I may have won, there are hundreds -- if not thousands -- of others in Ohio who are being harassed and challenged by this same group that is doing nothing more than trying to keep U.S. citizens from participating in the democratic process,” Simes wrote.

Curt Hartman, the Voter Integrity Project’s attorney, sharply disagreed.

“The board’s decision today opens the door to voter fraud in Hamilton County,” Hartman said.

“The owner of the condo has admitted (Simes) used it as a mail drop,” Hartman added. “It’s the same as using a box at the UPS Store or a FedEx Office for your voting address. The board failed to keep the focus on Ohio election law. It sets a dangerous precedent.”

Simes is a frequent advocate for urban redevelopment and an outspoken supporter of Cincinnati’s streetcar project.

Simes’ employer, Parsons Brinckerhoff, has received $13.8 million in city funding during the past few years to do preliminary work on the streetcar system.

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