Hamilton vice mayor promises council will fix flawed election form

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Hamilton vice mayor promises council will fix flawed election form

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MIKE RUTLEDGE/STAFF
Hamilton mayoral candidate Ramon Batista almost did not make the ballot for November because an inherent flaw with the city’s petition form for elected city offices. Butler County Board of Elections Director Diane Noonan points out the flawed portion of the city of Hamilton’s election petition form. MIKE RUTLEDGE/FILE

Hamilton mayoral candidate Ramon Batista almost wasn’t certified for November’s ballot because of a signature issue on the city’s petition form for elected office.

The problem is with a signature line indicating a petitioner witnessed people signing the names on a form. But there’s no direction to indicate that the 3-inch blank line is for a signature, or anything else.

The fix is simple, Butler County Elections Board of Elections Deputy Director Jocelyn Bucaro said.

“All that is needed is ‘signature of petition circulator’ below the line,” she said.

The process is woven in bureaucracy. To get that phrase under the line is a lengthy process that ends up asking the voters to OK to change the city’s charter.

This problem has plagued candidates and cost Hamilton City Councilman Matt Von Stein a chance to be on the 2013 ballot, an election year when the three incumbents went unchallenged. He also failed to sign this line in 2015, however, he signed his name elsewhere on the page and election officials certified his ballot. He went on in November 2015 to earn the second-most votes, winning a seat on Hamilton City Council.

The problem is, however, unique only to Hamilton. The city is the only local government to use its own petitions for elected office form. All other elected offices use the form created by the Ohio Secretary of State.

But Hamilton Vice Mayor Carla Fiehrer promises it will be fixed before potential candidates for office pull petitions to run in the 2019 local elections.

Don’t look for Hamilton City Council to address it until January, though. Voters will decide on three Hamilton City Council seats this November that will feature two incumbents seeking re-election.

Batista attended Tuesday’s Butler County Board of Elections certification meeting where Hamilton and Middletown city council candidates were to be certified. It’s likely, board members said, he could not have been certified because that line wasn’t signed. Because the issue has occurred for several elections, the board decided to certify his candidacy.

“Thank God they understood,” said Batista. “They knew this problem has been (existing) for a long time.”

And if Batista wins against incumbent Mayor Pat Moeller, it’s one of the first things he’ll work to correct, he said.

“I think if I win the election, I’m going to work with the lawyer for the city, so that way, the new candidates, they don’t have the problem,” he said.

But there is a process already established, which includes:

  • form the charter review commission and present the issue before the body;
  • the charter review commission would develop and issue a recommendation for city council to consider;
  • city council would debate the recommendation and vote on a resolution for voters to consider the change;
  • elections officials have the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office and Ohio Secretary of State review the resolution;
  • elections board members would vote to whether or not to certify the issue; and
  • voters would cast their vote.

However, the process of convening the charter review commission will be a significant hurdle, Fiehrer said. The commission, by charter, meets every five years — which occurred two years ago — but can be convened when necessary. Fiehrer said she wants to have the commission operate as other boards and commissions where there are appointed terms and they meet on a regular basis. She would recommend annually.

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