Friday, December 17, 2004

London Ohio Couple Reveals Votes Under Oath

This is a story that's been disturbing me for a while, and now it's reached it's climax:

“Mr. France, you cast two ballots for the issue of the London City School District tax issue?” Terrance O’Donnell, attorney for the London City School District, asked Wilbur France in a petition hearing Thursday about the school district’s income tax.

“Yes, sir,” France responded.

“How did you vote each time?” queried O’Donnell.

“I voted for it,” France responded.

A quick gasp rose from the audience as O’Donnell paused.

“You voted for the levy both times?” O’Donnell asked.

“Yes, sir,” France confirmed.

How did we get to a point where Mr. and Mrs. Wilber France were forced to reveal their votes in a courtroom under oath? As you might expect, it's a long and troubling tale.

The married couple in their seventies voted via absentee ballot in October. That's when the problems started:

Rebecca France testified she and her husband voted twice because they were told absentee ballots they cast in October had been lost and therefore would not be counted. She said the board of election gave her no direction about how to proceed to make sure their votes were counted.

“What would you have done so close to poll closing time?” Rebecca France asked during testimony.

“Not wanting to be disenfranchised by some mishap at the election board office, we made the five-mile trip to our polling place, interrupting our dinner, after dark and in the rain.”

At the polls, a second mistake was made. Instead of giving the Frances a now-infamous provisional ballot, they were allowed to vote using the regular ballots. These ballots were then mixed in with all of the other ballots in their precinct.

That night, it was announced that the local school levy failed by one vote.

When the automatic recount was conducted, it was discovered that the original absentee ballots really were counted, as were the election day votes. Things got even more heated in the city of 9,000 - a typical Ohio city where everyone knows everyone else - when story was made public. Rebecca France was a known critic of the school levy, and the school supporters naturally assumed her and her husband's extra votes caused the levy to fail.

Fast forward past a grand jury decision not to indict the elderly couple (no intent to vote twice) and you arrive a hearing requested by the school board challenging the election results, where the Frances were offered immunity in return for their honest testimony.

Attorney Richard Dunkle, who represented the Frances, said that while he did not feel it was right to require his clients to reveal how they cast their ballots, he advised the Frances to accept the immunity agreement.

I think under the circumstances, everyone wanted to know how they voted,” Dunkle said. “When the prosecutor made that offer, to put this thing to rest for them, I advised them it was best to accept that.”

Questioned first, Mrs. France revealed that she did indeed vote against the levy - twice. This set up her husband's testimony, in which he revealed he voted for the levy - also twice - effectively cancelling out his wife's two votes.
“We don’t discuss political issues,” Rebecca France said.
The judge reduced the vote results by one on both sides and the levy still failed.

I don't know what bothers me more.

The mistakes made that created the whole mess in the first place.
The fact that the couple was at risk of prosecution by the grand jury.
A local school board that felt they needed to take a couple in their seventies to court.
Or a judge that would allow them to feel like they had to reveal their vote in court.

Or maybe I should just find humor in the fact that - like many couples I suspect - they "don't discuss political issues"