Voter watchdog group: Blogger cast ballot illegally in Cincinnati's mayoral primary

Randy Simes lived in Chicago, group alleges

CINCINNATI -- A voter fraud watchdog group has filed a complaint against a prominent website operator stemming from a ballot cast in Cincinnati’s mayoral primary.

The Ohio Voter Integrity Project filed an election falsification complaint late last week against Randy Simes, operator of the UrbanCincy blog and a planner with the Parsons Brinckerhoff consulting firm.

Mary Siegel, the person who filed the complaint, alleges Simes improperly cast an early voting ballot in July for the Sept. 10 mayoral primary, while also being registered to vote in Chicago.

Further, Siegel’s complaint stated that 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.

“The right to vote is a serious matter and it’s something that individuals shouldn’t treat like a game,” said Curt Hartman, Siegel’s attorney.

Simes disputes the complaint, noting he registered locally on July 12 partially to establish a U.S. address that could be used for correspondence, bank transactions and other matters before he was transferred to South Korea for an extended work assignment.

A Cincinnati native, Simes has since begun work in Seoul, South Korea.

“At the time of casting my ballot, I was in transition from the United States to the Republic of Korea for a two-year work contract,” Simes said. “As a result, I had no typical residence as understood by most people.

“Where I go to sleep most every nights nowadays is in Seoul, as I am presently living under expatriate status,” he added.

The Hamilton County Board of Elections is scheduled to discuss the complaint at its Oct. 7 meeting.

If an investigation indicates a voter knowingly provided false information, a charge of election falsification may be filed.

The charge is a fifth-degree felony. If convicted, the person could face up to 12 months in jail and a fine of $2,500.

The complaint cites three provisions in Ohio election law that it alleges Simes violated. They are:

  • No person shall knowingly register or make application or attempt to register in a precinct in which the person is not a qualified voter;
  • Or knowingly swear or affirm falsely upon a lawful examination by or before any registering officer;
  • No person shall knowingly make any false statement on any form for registration or change of registration or upon any application or return envelope for an absent voter's ballot.

Although Hartman wants the Board of Elections to forward the complaint to the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office for further investigation, he doesn’t necessarily want to pursue criminal charges.

“We simply contend that he does not qualify to be on the voting registration rolls,” Hartman said.

The case has political overtones stemming from the mayoral race between Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley.

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

Qualls strongly supports the streetcar project, while Cranley opposes it.

Meanwhile, Hartman also serves as attorney for a group of residents who dislike the city’s parking lease with the Port Authority and wants to hold a voter referendum on the March deal.

Cranley opposes the parking lease and wants a referendum; Qualls supports the deal and doesn’t want a public vote.

Simes is an outspoken advocate for redeveloping the urban core with projects like the streetcar; he made an online contribution of $50 to Qualls on June 28, and listed a Chicago address.

Cranley placed first in the primary, finishing with 2,128 more votes than Qualls.

The complaint cites Simes' contribution to Qualls, along with multiple postings made on social media like Facebook and Twitter in July and August, which indicate Simes was living in Chicago.

Also, it cites Simes’ biography on his LinkedIn profile and at the UrbanCincy blog, which stated he lived in Illinois.

When Simes registered to vote in Cincinnati in July, he listed an Over-the-Rhine address as his home. The address is where his friend, Travis Estell, lives. The complaint noted that Simes isn’t listed on the intercom directory at the front door.

But Simes said he told an official at the Hamilton County Board of Elections when he registered to vote locally to remove him from voter rolls in Cook County, Illinois.

“This needed to happen so that I could maintain an address somewhere in the United States while I was on my overseas assignment,” Simes said. “The natural choice for me was Cincinnati since this is the place I consider home and where I will be returning once my overseas assignment is completed.”

Hartman said the situation doesn’t comply with Ohio elections law.

“His tweets, his Facebook page, his voting history and even his campaign contribution to Roxanne Qualls all show he doesn’t live here,” Hartman said.

Regarding Simes’ explanation, Hartman

added, “Does that mean if I have a friend from California visiting me for the weekend, he can vote here?”

Hartman is asking the board to subpoena Estell to testify at the Oct. 7 hearing.

Also, he is seeking to subpoena Simes’ personnel and payroll records from Parsons Brinckerhoff, along with all emails between Simes and Estell from June to the present.

On its website, the Voter Integrity Project describes itself as “a nonpartisan grassroots effort to educate and involve citizens in various aspects of the electoral process to ensure unbiased and lawful elections for all residents of Ohio regardless of race or party affiliation.”

“It is our right to elect candidates who represent the voice of the citizens of our state. Our votes must count with one vote per legitimate voter,” the website states.

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