Voters have chance to change confusing, error-ridden process in Hamilton

Butler County Board of Elections Director Diane Noonan holds up a city of Hamilton elections petition, which has proven to be so confusing that candidates have been knocked out of city races. City officials advocate a change to Hamilton’s charter to use the clearer form used by other candidates across the county. MIKE RUTLEDGE/STAFF

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Butler County Board of Elections Director Diane Noonan holds up a city of Hamilton elections petition, which has proven to be so confusing that candidates have been knocked out of city races. City officials advocate a change to Hamilton’s charter to use the clearer form used by other candidates across the county. MIKE RUTLEDGE/STAFF

Hamilton voters on Tuesday will consider a change to the city’s charter that is meant to simplify the process for candidates running for city offices. The change will ease headaches for the Butler County Board of Elections, too.

The city’s charter requires candidates for city council and mayor use nominating-petition forms that are different from those used by other candidates across the county. They also are more confusing than the similar forms dictated by state law for candidates in non-charter cities.

On Hamilton’s form, there is a signature line that’s supposed to indicate the person who circulated the petitions witnessed people signing the form. But nowhere on the form does it indicate the blank line is for a signature. One solution would be to place the words, “signature of petition circulator,” below the line. Another would be to use the forms dictated by state law, and used by the other county candidates.

If the proposed charter change is approved, the city simply will use the state’s form.

Ramon Batista, who last year ran for mayor, challenging Pat Moeller, nearly was rejected from being on the ballot because of the signature issue. Butler County election officials could have declined to certify Batista’s candidacy because he didn’t sign the line. But because the problem had occurred several times in prior elections, the board gave its approval.

“Thank God they understood,” Batista told the Journal-News at the time. “They knew this problem has been (existing) for a long time.”

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Matthew Von Stein, now on Hamilton City Council, lost the chance to run in 2013 because of the issue, and the three council incumbents faced no challenger in that race. Although Von Stein later failed to sign the same line two years later, he did sign another part of the page and officials approved his candidacy. He captured the second-most votes in the 2015 race to join the council.

This week, Batista said he was in favor of the charter change.

“I am in favor — 100 percent,” Batista said.

Hamilton city Clerk Nick Garuckas recently told city council: “The Butler County Board of Elections has told us numerous times that there is constantly errors on our application about people filling them out. It’s confusing. People turn in the wrong thing. They hand them in to me. I’m not the election board.”

Garuckas added: “The only thing we’re doing is taking … this form, we’re getting it out of the charter, and we’re going to put in one line that just says, ‘We’re using the form that the county uses.’”

The charter amendment also changes the deadline for city candidates to file their petitions from the current 75 days before the election to 90 days before Election Day, bringing the city in line with state law and almost all governments in Butler County, except Middletown.

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