Board of Elections Sues County Over New Building
June 9, 2022 by Amy Patterson

The Geauga County Board of Elections filed a lawsuit May 23 seeking a ruling on whether Geauga County Commissioners must pay for critical logistical and design issues the board says have still not been resolved.

The Geauga County Board of Elections filed a lawsuit May 23 seeking a ruling on whether Geauga County Commissioners must pay for critical logistical and design issues the board says have still not been resolved.

In the filing to Geauga County Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn Paschke, the BOE claims commissioners failed to account for several critical aspects of the administration of elections in the design of the new county building on Ravenwood Drive.

The BOE believes is a complicated and unfit layout for early voting and other election business, and has inadequate storage space for “100 DS-200 voting machines, 40 Express Vote machines, 372 privacy booths, 79 ballot boxes and a very large supply of tables, A-frame signs, cabinets, cones, poles and pole bases, flags, carts, work lights, yard signs, among other equipment and supplies necessary to conduct a county-wide election.”

Additionally, the BOE is requesting the court force payment for a chemical fire suppressant system that would not damage the board’s voting machines in case of an emergency.

In a June 7 press release, County Administrator Gerry Morgan said the BOE lawsuit is an attempt to force the commissioners to provide the BOE funds to install “an expensive fire suppression system in the BOE offices at the new county office building when an adequate and widely-utilized fire suppression system has already been installed.”

The BOE’s lawsuit states Election Systems & Software emphasized the construction of the machines — which include plastic, metal, electronics and a lithium-ion backup battery — would require a Class ABC suppression system, not the current water suppression system.

Additionally, the filing says commissioners previously agreed to a change order for the Geauga County Department of Information Technology Automatic Data Processing Board to use the same foam suppression system in their portion of the building.

“The commissioners recognized the damage that a high-powered water supplied fire suppression system could cause to ADP’s equipment and technology. The board of elections raised the same concerns as the ADP board about the potential damage to its equipment and technology,” the lawsuit says.

Dennis Pavella, BOE chair, said the commissioners won’t do the same for his board.

“They’ve already done it for ADP in that building, but they won’t do it for us. They feel we’re not important to them, (that) elections don’t matter,” he said. “We’ve got about $2 million worth of equipment. If the (water-based) fire system went off, we could probably throw most of it in the garbage.”

Morgan said the commissioners have redesigned the BOE space multiple times due to “changing goalposts” set by the BOE, adding the “dysfunction” of the BOE, which has had three directors and three assistant directors in the past few years, complicated the communication process.

“These changes, which are too numerous to detail, have resulted in wasted taxpayer dollars,” Morgan said, which add up to approximately $671,000 so far.

Pavella said the requests from the BOE have been consistent since the new building project began.

“The board’s been exactly the same people and they have not had a hard time communicating,” Pavella said. “(Commissioners) don’t want to talk to us is where the breakdown comes.”

Pavella said the wasted money is on the part of the commissioners, who “paid no attention” to requests the board made based not only on technical specifications from equipment vendors, but also on rulings from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office to which the BOE must comply.

Representatives from the BOE had the first opportunity to tour their new space in the facility on Dec. 14, 2021, the lawsuit says, where some minor changes were easily agreed upon, but “the most critical and essential aspects of the (space) — namely the high-powered water supplied fire suppression system and lack of storage, were not resolved.”

Morgan said the BOE has bashed and belittled Geauga County voters by presenting problems with the layout of the building as if they would lead to confusion over how to form lines, or the need to use stairs or elevators to reach the BOE office.

“The commissioners are and will remain dedicated to providing safe, secure, convenient and accessible voting to all our residents,” he said. “The new BOE location will be in a state-of-the-art building near the center of the county, yards away from the (Geauga County) Sheriff’s Office, Geauga hospital and Geauga Transit. It is unfortunate that petty political squabbles by the BOE members will only serve to hinder the ability of residents to vote and waste additional taxpayer dollars.”