WILMINGTON — Four people weren’t certified to run for public office Tuesday by the Clinton County Board of Elections due to mistakes on their petitions.

The four are: Tanya Eades, who had filed to run as a council candidate for Clarksville; Michelle Morrison, Port William’s mayor filing for re-election; Sheila Dawson, who filed to run for council in Martinsville; and Elizabeth Jean Richards, who filed seeking re-election as the fiscal officer of Marion Township. All of the uncertified candidates were unopposed.

Moyer said, according to state law, mayors appoint people to vacant council seats, trustees appoint a fiscal officer and the president of council becomes mayor if the mayor’s seat is vacant.

The board of elections chose not to certify those candidates because their petitions had been filled out incorrectly. Specifically, they had electors’ signatures that were dated before the petition’s declaration of candidacy had been signed and dated by the candidate.

The signed declaration of candidacy, which includes a candidate’s name, address and office sought, tells an elector asked to sign a petition exactly what office the candidate is running for. Without that early step, an unscrupulous person could say he or she wanted to run for one office, solicit signatures and then sign the petition as seeking another office.

It also affirms that the circulator of the petition has witnessed those signatures, another safeguard added against possible election fraud.

“You don’t know about those signatures that were signed before the declaration of candidacy,” Clinton County Prosecutor Richard W. “Rick” Moyer said. “It is so important that you have that declaration of candidacy; so people know exactly” what office you’re running for.

Moyer said those safeguards were state law, meaning there’s no way around them for the four uncertified candidates.

“It’s an honest mistake,” said Shane Breckel, director of the board of elections.

Deputy director Jay Peterson said the signatures were otherwise valid.

And a couple candidates were close, despite the error. Morrison’s, for instance, still had eight valid signatures signed after she signed the declaration of candidacy. She needed 10 to get on the ballot.

“The (issue with the) dates created what is commonly known in the Secretary of State’s office as a ‘fatal error,’” said Steve Fricke, the chair of the board of elections, meaning that those candidates can’t file again at this point.

“It’s not uncommon” to see a few not get certified in a large election like the upcoming one, Fricke said. “It’s too bad because our interest is to allow as many people to run as possible.”

Peterson said the office, in years prior, helped candidates by letting them know if their petition was invalid, but said the Clinton County Prosecutor’s Office said that could expose them to liability.

Fricke, Moyer and Breckel said that instead of directly helping candidates, the board of elections now hands out packets that include sample petitions and instructions to each candidate.

The board of elections petition policy, adopted in November, 2013, forbids board of elections members and staff from telling candidates if a petition is deficient or how many valid or invalid signatures are on a petition until after the Clinton County Board of Elections meets to certify them.

Before the deadline, which was August 5, candidates could have picked up their own turned-in packets to see if there were any errors, according to the instructions provided to them.

The board’s votes not to certify those four candidates were 3-0. Richard Sutton wasn’t present at the time.

Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.

Mistakes in petitions constitute ‘a fatal error’

By Nathan Kraatz

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