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The Warren Tribune-Chronicle - Sep. 3, 1999

Voters' Rights Group Supports Contest of May Primary

A Youngstown clerk of courts candidate's appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court has garnered VIP support.

The Voting Integrity Project, a national voters' rights organization, has filed an amicus curiae "friend of the court" brief supporting Rick Durkin's legal contest of the May 4 Democratic primary in Mahoning County. Durkin lost the clerk of courts nomination to Sarah Brown-Clark by 316 votes, but contested the results.

"Our organization battles cases where voter rights have been abridged or interfered with in some way," said VIP President Deborah Phillips. "And that's exactly what we feel happened here."

Durkin's case alleges that the Mahoning County Board of Elections failed to remove Charles Sammarone's name from the ballot after he withdrew from the county clerk race, and further failed to inform voters that any ballots cast for Sammarone would be voided.

Those votes, according to Durkin's appeal, could have changed the outcome of the election, and that's what grabbed the attention of VIP.

Phillips explained that the VIP brief was filed not because Durkin was denied the election, but on behalf of the voters who had their ballots thrown out. "These voters were disenfranchised because election officials illegally allowed Mr. Sammarone's name to appear on the ballot. To void the ballots of so many voters because an election was improperly conducted is unacceptable."

Mahoning County Board of Elections Director Michael Sciortino said although the board followed all the appropriate procedures after Sammarone's withdrawal, it was too close to the election for the board to have the ballots reprinted. Following Ohio law, the board posted signs at polling places explaining that votes cast for Sammarone would not be counted, Sciortino said.

Durkin contested the election results in July, but the case dismissed by Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge Maureen Cronin. An appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court was filed Aug. 13.

Copyright 1999 The Warren Tribune-Chronicle

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