The race for Brookfield trustee now has three candidates for two seats.
Mark Ferrara, who had been held off the ballot by the Trumbull County Board of Elections because of an error in counting the number of signatures on what is known as a part-petition – one of two pages of signatures that he submitted – successfully overturned the decision with a ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court that may have ramifications beyond this race.
“I’m happy they ruled in my favor, but the work begins now,” Ferrara said. “I can’t take anything for granted, nor will I. There’s three viable candidates and let’s see what happens.”
Also running are incumbent Dan Suttles and first-time candidate Catherine Hodge. The general election is Nov. 2.
Board of elections Executive Director Stephanie Penrose confirmed Sept. 20 that Ferrara has been added to the ballot based on the Ohio Supreme Court’s Sept. 14 decision. Penrose said the court ruling came one day before she had to send the ballot to the printer.
On one of the part-petitions that Ferrara submitted, he wrote that he had 16 signatures when there were actually 17.
He called the error an “inadvertent undercount.”
The board invalidated that page in its entirety and credited him for only the signatures on the other page, which were short of the 25. If the signatures on both pages are counted, Ferrara submitted 32 valid signatures, Penrose said.
The board also denied his request for reconsideration, Ferrara said.
Ferrara, who was represented by Baker, Dublikar, Beck, Wiley and Mathews of Columbus, said he had no indication that he had a case when he started calling lawyers and examining his options, only that invalidating the part-petition based on incorrect math did not make sense.
“Hopefully, I’m gonna help people who make an unfortunate clerical error in the future, and they’ll be heard from,” he said.
The Supreme Court noted that it had not always been consistent in ruling in past cases with similar facts.
There is nothing in the law that mandates an invalidation of a part petition for an error such as Ferrara’s, but in the court case on which the board of elections relied, Rust vs. Lucas County Board of Elections from 2005, the court deferred to the Ohio Secretary of State, which recommended invalidation, said Judge Pat DeWine, who wrote the majority opinion.
“The guidance provided by the secretary of state is as confusing, and inconsistent, as our case law,” DeWine said. “The secretary instructs boards of elections to treat undercounts differently than overcounts.”
“There is absolutely no support in the statute for drawing such a distinction,” he said.
The board overturned the Rust decision.
Judge Jennifer Brunner dissented from the opinion.
“With Ferrara attesting to only 16 signatures, the board of elections is unable to determine which of the 17 signatures appearing on the part-petition was not witnessed,” she said. To grant his request without proof as to how many he witnessed “promotes fraud.”
“Ferrara has not provided evidence to the board of elections or this court that he has complied with the law,” Brunner said.