Norwalk council election could end up in court

NORWALK A 4th Ward resident could end up representing Norwalk's 1st Ward unless a lawsuit is filed.
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

NORWALK

A 4th Ward resident could end up representing Norwalk's 1st Ward unless a lawsuit is filed.

Democrat Lynn Chapin ran for Norwalk City Council's 1st Ward seat against opponent Republican Scott Krichbaum even though, unbeknownst to her, she doesn't live in the 1st Ward.

Chapin's North Foster Street address, where she's lived since 1992, was in the city's 1st Ward until 2002, when city council redrew ward boundaries to more evenly distribute the population, according to Norwalk law director Stuart O'Hara.

"From our perspective she lives in the 4th Ward," he said Tuesday afternoon.

Unofficial election night results showed Chapin beating Krichbaum 311 to 303 in the 1st Ward.

Huron County Board of Elections director Tom Gerrity said provisional ballots in the 1st Ward race won't be counted until Monday.

Official election results won't be announced until Nov. 21.

But if Chapin had run for office in the correct ward, Krichbaum would've won the 1st Ward by running unopposed.

O'Hara said city law prohibits council people who are not at-large candidates from representing a ward unless they live within it. So if Chapin ultimately wins the 1st Ward election, it could be a huge problem.

"A mistake was made, and there doesn't appear to be any easy remedy," O'Hara said.

The mistake was made by Huron County Board of Election officials whose voter-registration database failed to correct Chapin when she filled out paperwork to run for office in the city's 1st Ward.

"I feel terrible this has happened," board of elections director Tom Gerrity said Thursday afternoon. "So do our board members. Now that we know there's a problem, we're going to fix it."

In an attempt to solve the problem, Gerrity contacted Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner's office.

Gretchen Quinn, an attorney with the secretary of state's office, sent Gerrity a memo on Friday saying Ohio law requires the board to name Chapin the winner if she does, in fact, win the election.

"It's up to the city to decide if the candidate should be sworn into office," Jeff Ortega, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office, said Tuesday.

But O'Hara said the city of Norwalk has no responsibility to sort out the situation.

That is a job for Huron County Common Pleas Court, he said.

"At that point we have to wait and see whether anyone files an election challenge," O'Hara said. "That can be filed by either the opposing candidate or 25 duly qualified electors from the (1st) Ward."

O'Hara said the suit must be filed within 30 days after the official election results are announced, but nothing can be done to correct the situation unless a lawsuit is filed.

"If nobody files a lawsuit, then she'd be entitled to be sworn in and we'd have to look at whether she can continue to serve," he said.

After hearing his options for the first time Tuesday night, Krichbaum wasn't sure what to do.

"I haven't really thought about that yet," he said. "I really don't have a comment at this time."

Chapin said all the confusion after the Nov. 6 election has put a damper on her unofficial victory.

"I've worked all summer long for this, and now I don't even know what to think," she said. "The people voted for me to represent them, and I'm starting to worry that I'm not going to be able to, through no fault of mine or theirs."