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Pro-levy supporters probed

Sandusky Register Staff • Aug 22, 2013 at 12:30 PM

Perkins Schools levy supporters recruited Ohio Veterans Home Alzheimer’s patients to vote for their cause, according to allegations raised by Erie County Board of Elections officials.


All four board members — two Democrats and two Republicans — based this charge on a letter they received from a local resident who often visits the veterans home.


Board member Amy Grubbe verified she saw students ushering veterans to the polls, located at the OVH, but she couldn’t determine if pro-levy supporters persuaded residents to vote “yes.” 


The complainant, Bob Weichel, said in a letter to the board that “a Perkins athletic coach accompanied a Perkins Schools girls athletic team to the Ohio Veterans Home to assist veterans in getting to the polling place located in the home.”


Weichel raised concerns about district levy supporters and students possibly influencing how some veterans voted.


By more than a 4-to-1 margin, individuals voting at the veterans home approved the Perkins Schools levy. This was the largest margin of victory throughout the district’s 16 voting precincts.


But consider this: Only 27 veterans submitted a ballot at the Ohio Veterans Home, and more than 4,600 people participated in this election. In May, 30 people cast a vote at the home for a similar school levy, with an almost identical outcome.


In the end, voters collectively rejected both the May and August issues aimed to generate new funds for operations through property taxes.


To Weichel, however, a small turnout doesn’t discredit large, lingering concerns supposedly occurring on Election Day.


“I feel the Perkins students and their coach assisting veterans to the polls corrupts the political process and violates the law since their veiled political activity is taking place well within 100 feet of the polling place and could happen mere feet away form the voting area,” Weichel wrote. “The blatant actions of the levy supporters are disgusting and disrespectful to the veterans who have served our country.”


Elections board officials read Weichel’s letter at a public meeting Wednesday morning.


The four members came to a consensus: Even though nobody violated any election laws, what allegedly occurred at the Ohio Veterans Home could be considered immoral and unethical.

Board members referenced students and other levy supports ushering, escorting and even pushing wheelchairs from a designated unit to the polling location.


“You have one side that has access to private residents who might be vulnerable,” board member Chris Marinko said. “You have a person suffering from Alzheimer’s and someone else on the other side persuading and driving that voter to do something.”


Said board member Kevin Zeiher: “I want to see the residents given every opportunity to vote. But it’s not a good thing that these people don’t know what’s going on or maybe don’t want to vote for or against the issue.”


Jason Bennett, chair of the newly formed Perkins Schools levy committee, said any accusations about recruiting Alzheimer’s patients are ill-founded.


A group of 15 or so volunteers, including students and community members, did escort Ohio Veterans Home residents to the polls, but only if a volunteer coordinator from the home designated them as interested voters, Bennett said. The group took the veterans to the hallway in front of the polling place and didn’t go inside.


“We were given a map with the locked Alzheimer’s areas marked off and they told us ‘those are areas you can’t go into,’” Bennett said. “I didn’t participate in, see or hear anyone trying to coerce any residents to vote for or against the levy or even to go vote.”


Bennett, a long-time Ohio Veterans Home volunteer who works at a Toledo-area nursing home, said some patients the group assisted may have had health conditions. The home’s employees could not provide volunteers with medical information, however, because of privacy concerns.


“I’ve never been criticized for volunteering before,” Bennett said. “It’s sad. It seems with this election, there is a certain segment of the population that thinks everything is underhanded and sneaky.”


Perkins Schools officials are proposing a 10-year, 6.73-mill levy for the November ballot — identical to the issue voters rejected earlier this month.


“The Ohio Veterans Home will be telling us what their policy us,” elections board director Jen Ferback said. “We will do whatever the home wants us to do for the November election and any other election.”


Among the possibilities that could occur, according to Ferback: Veterans home administrators could prohibit anyone who doesn’t live in the facility, or who is not a family member, from attending the polling location on Election Day.


Pick up the Register this week for more stories on Perkins Schools, including fundraising and private donors offsetting pay-to-play costs.

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