The two Democrats and two Republicans on the Hamilton County Board of Elections can’t go too long without a tussle; and they had been way too agreeable with each other lately.
That ended last Monday over the name of a candidate for Hamilton County commissioner. That name – actually a candidate’s middle name – set off a row between the Democrats and Republicans on the board.
What’s in a name?
A lot, if you are a political candidate. Having a recognizable name that has been successful in elective politics for a long time can be a not-inconsiderable advantage for a candidate.
Here’s the situation:
A few weeks ago, Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann shocked most of the local political universe by announcing that he would not be a candidate for a third term in 2016.
This bombshell set off a scrum in the Hamilton County Republican Party, one that continued until the final hour of the December 16 filing deadline for the March primary election.
Cincinnati council member Christopher Smitherman, elected to council as an independent and someone who has voted in Democratic primaries in recent years, was talking publicly of running for commissioner in the GOP primary. But he decided against it.
So, too, did Cincinnati council member Charlie Winburn, a Republican, who ended up pulling petitions for both county recorder and county commissioner. Late in the afternoon of December 16, Winburn turned in petitions for county recorder, foregoing a run for county commissioner.
But three Republicans did file – former Madeira mayor Mary Anne Christie, long-time party activist Raj Rajagopal, and Colerain Township Trustee Dennis Deters – who happens to be the younger brother of Hamilton County prosecutor Joseph T. Deters.
The Hamilton County Republican Party leadership clearly wanted Dennis Deters over the other two. That led Christie to quickly withdraw as a candidate; and Rajagopal soon followed suit and got out.
That left Dennis Deters.
And, this past week, it became clear that Deters will run for commissioner as an incumbent, taking on Democrat Denise Driehaus, a state representative who is term-limited out.
Hartmann announced he would resign from office Monday; and it was clear that, in January, the Hamilton County Republican Party executive committee will meet and appoint Dennis Deters to the vacant commission seat.
All neat and clean, right?
Well, not exactly.
Deters’ petitions were filed with a form that designates how he wants his name to appear on the ballot. He wants his name to appear on the ballot as Dennis Joseph Deters.
This set off the two Democrats on the board of elections, Tim Burke and Caleb Faux.
They believe he is trying to deceive voters by injecting his brother’s first name into the name he wants to use on the ballot.
Burke produced one legal document after another where Deters either used the name “Dennis Deters” or “Dennis P. Deters.”
He produced voter registration forms from 1995 and 2007, a 2007 provisional ballot envelope, 2009 and 2013 petitions for the office of Colerain Township trustee, a 2013 filing checklist requesting he be on the ballot as “Dennis P. Deters, a petition filed listing the name “Dennis P. Deters.” There was only one document where he used “Dennis Joseph Deters” – the form listing as he wanted his name to appear on the ballot. He had never used "Joseph" while running for trustee.
The two Republicans on the board of elections argue that Deters was entitled to use “Joseph” on the ballot, because it is part of his legal name.
Triantafilou produced Deters’ birth certificate from March 1975 which shows that, legally, his name is Dennis Patrick Joseph Deters.
The board voted on whether or not to certify him for the ballot as Dennis Joseph Deters; and, as you might imagine, it was a tie vote – the Democrats voting no, and the Republicans voting yes.
Both sides packed up their documentation and legal arguments and sent it off to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, who is the chief elections officer of the state and the person responsible for breaking tie votes on Ohio’s 88 county boards of elections.
Triantafilou said he has no idea what Husted will do, but told WVXU he “has a hard time believing he will tell a candidate he can’t use part of his legal name on the ballot.”
Burke said he believes it is “an effort to deceive the voters of Hamilton County by playing on the perceived benefits of his brother’s name.”
Deters told WVXU he listed himself for the ballot as “Dennis Joseph Deters” because “people often use different names in their professional lives.”
“Joseph,” Deters said, is the name of his grandfather and part of his legal name, Deters told WVXU.
And it also happens to be the name of his older brother, the county prosecutor, whose name will appear on the November ballot directly below the county commission race for Hartmann’s seat. Joseph T. Deters, the prosecutor, has no opposition, either in the primary or the general election. The Democrats fielded no candidate for prosecutor.
“This is my ballot name, Dennis Joseph Deters,’’ the county commission candidate said. “And, yes, I am obviously proud of my brother. We have a family history of good public service.”
But even Deters admits that using “Joseph” on the ballot could be a double-edged sword.
While the name “Joseph” attached to “Deters” could attract some voters, it could just as well turn off many others who have never liked the county prosecutor.
“Yes, it will be a negative for many people,’’ Dennis Deters said. “But that is the way I choose to run. And I will abide by the decision of the Secretary of State. It is up to him.”