It will be up to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to decide whether Anderson Township trustee Andrew Pappas can be subpoenaed to appear before the Hamilton County Board of Elections to answer questions about his possibly illegal handling of anti-sales tax petitions in July.
The Republican trustee says the accusation is the result of a mistake and has apologized in writing to the board of elections, but a group of Anderson Township Democrats want Pappas to come to the board and answer one simple question: How could he have witnessed the signatures of eight township voters in the anti-sales tax petition when he was, according to his own social media postings, in Michigan at the time?
Ohio election law requires the circulator of a petition to witness each and every signature on his or her petitions.
Board chairman Tim Burke, a Democrat, was furious with Pappas and his attorney, Stuart Dornette, because Pappas did not show up for Monday morning's hearing on the matter.
Burke and fellow Democratic board member Caleb Faux voted to issue a subpoena requiring Pappas to appear at a hearing in the near future. The two Republicans on the board, GOP county chairman Alex Triantafilou and Chip Gerhardt voted against issuing the subpoena.
Under Ohio election law, the secretary of state – Jon Husted, a Republican and candidate for lieutenant governor – breaks tie votes on county election boards.
Burke said he is hopeful that Husted will side with the Democrats.
"Even though he's a Republican running for higher office, I'd be shocked if he doesn't allow in favor of a subpoena," Burke said.
Last Friday, Pappas was non-committal when WVXU asked if he would attend the Monday hearing.
"I'm considering it, but I have two businesses to run,'' Pappas told WXVU.
He told WVXU he has already explained what happened and apologized.
Pappas was referring to a letter he sent the board of elections Friday explaining what happened while he was collecting petitions for a ballot issue to repeal sales tax increase approved by the Democratic majority on the county commission.
He said he kept petitions circulated by himself and by other volunteers in his dry cleaning business in Anderson Township.
One page of another circulator's petitions got mixed up with his, he said.
"When I signed the petitions on the clipboard…I believe they only contained signatures that I had personally witnessed,'' Pappas said. "In fact, I was wrong."
Five women who are involved in Anderson Township Democratic politics testified before the board Monday that they don't accept Pappas' explanation and urged the board to refer the case to the county prosecutor.
Pappas could be charged with a fifth degree felony – although Triantafilou said he doubts the prosecutor would press charges in a case like this.
"This is very, very political,'' Triantafilou said. "Everyone who has spoken before this board this morning is affiliated with the Democratic Party of Anderson Township."
County Chairman Gerhardt said "there is clearly a concerted effort to go after Mr. Pappas."
Triantafilou said that, after the 2015 election, a complaint was filed against Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley saying he went into a polling place in Avondale and twice shouted "Vote yes on Issue 22!" Issue 22 was a permanent levy for Cincinnati parks that failed miserably at the polls.
Campaigning within 100 feet of a polling place is a violation of Ohio law.
Cranley wrote to the board of elections and apologized for his action, calling it an "error in judgement that won't be repeated."
All four board members accepted Cranley's apology and didn't seek further action.
"The mayor committed a clear violation of law, but we accepted his apology and moved on,'' Triantafilou said.
That, Burke said, was a minor misdemeanor offense, Burke said. In the case of Pappas, Burke said, he could be charged with a felony.
The two sides agreed to submit their arguments to Husted by Friday, Sept. 29.