McKinney Drops Suit, Seeks State Review of Mayoral Election

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Defeated mayoral candidate Sean McKinney yesterday withdrew his lawsuit — but not his challenge — contesting the result of the Nov. 7 election.

The day before the hearing was set to begin on his lawsuit against the Mahoning County Board of Elections and Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, McKinney withdrew the complaint he filed Dec. 7.

Instead, he and his attorney, Donald C. Brey of Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, Columbus, are calling on the Ohio Secretary of State’s office to investigate the “numerous irregularities” in the Nov. 7 election.

“The 2017 general election was flawed and plagued with countless irregularities, which we believe convincingly made it impossible to know the true will of the voters,” McKinney said during a news conference in the Mahoning County Courthouse.

McKinney’s complaint included claims of soiled ballots, double counting of votes, unequal treatment regarding felons, “widespread campaigning in non-campaign areas,” and contradictions in records.

The court denied his team the ability to depose witnesses and the board of elections failed to provide “the basic and relevant documents we were legally entitled to receive,” making it impossible “to use this election contest case to vindicate the rights of voters, McKinney asserted.

“But we haven’t given up the fight.”

McKinney’s campaign’s counsel has been in contact with the office of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and will provide it with the research it has gathered, giving the office what it needs to conduct a full investigation. “He is receiving all of the pertinent information so that he can pursue the truth without being faced with the same burden of lack of cooperation that we endured,” he said.

The secretary of state has the authority as well as subpoena power to investigate irregularities and misconduct and failure to follow or blatant disregard of election law in the state, Brey said. Although the office can’t order a new election, it can remove elections board members for cause, and if criminal conduct is discovered can refer that finding to the proper authorities, as well as mandate any education or training deemed appropriate, he said.

Members of the Mahoning County Board of Elections, Mayor Brown and Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains disputed McKinney’s claims and said they welcomed the review by state elections officials. They spoke at a news conference held in response to McKinney’s at the board offices.

David Betras, an elections board member and chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, expressed outrage at McKinney’s continued attacks on the board. He called McKinney a “petulant child” and accused Seventh Ward Councilwoman Basia Adamczak, who supported McKinney’s mayoral bid, and consultant Richard “Oz” Ouzounian of being the “pied pipers” driving McKinney’s lawsuit.

“His refusal to accept the will of the voters is troubling,” Betras said. “As we said from the moment he filed his lawsuit against the board of elections and Mayor Brown, his claims that elections irregularities and other improper activities rendered the outcome of the election uncertain were baseless and ridiculous.”

Betras’ Republican counterpart as party chairman, Mark Munroe, said when he joined the elections board 25 years ago he spent the first two years trying to determine whether foul play was involved in local Democrats’ victories at the ballot box.

“What I discovered after two years of poking around was that the Democrats weren’t stealing elections. They were winning them,” Munroe recalled. “I committed myself at that time as a member of the board of elections to do everything that I could to ensure that the public had faith and trust in the voting system.”

Munroe added he was “saddened” to hear the “ridiculous” charges made by McKinney at yesterday’s news conference.

“We’ve gone out of our way to disprove all of the charges that were raised. The suggestion that this election was somehow fraudulent is absurd,” he said. He also invited McKinney to personally come to the board to review what had been gathered.

Brown said he had hoped McKinney’s news conference would offer “a glimmer of hope and light to unite the community” but all he heard was divisiveness. He lamented that taxpayer dollars were wasted, and that he had to hire legal representation in the case.

Responding to the suit cost the elections board $23,237, Joyce Kale-Pesta, director, said. That doesn’t count the time the prosecutor’s office put into the case, Gains said.

“I don’t want to divide this community,” Brown said. “Let’s move Youngstown forward. I want to work with everyone.”

Gains, as others did, expressed regret that the case did not go to trial so the evidence complied could be verified in court. Following the review of the evidence by him and his legal team, the prosecutor said he is convinced last year’s general election was fair and honest.

“There were not numerous irregularities. I do not believe that the general public, other than maybe some conspiracy theorists, believe that there is rampant fraud or irregularities in this board of elections,” he said. He also said he found the claim that the county and elections board was uncooperative “offensive.”

Among the items Gains addressed was video taken at one of the polling locations that McKinney’s camp showed fewer people entering the polling place than voted. According to Gains, the video begins at half an hour after the polls opened and occasionally skips when played, showing an incomplete record of who entered. The video “never would have come into evidence,” he said.

Adamczak, who attended both news conferences, disputed Betras’ allegation that she drove McKinney to pursue the lawsuit, calling it out of line and unprofessional.

“My primary focus is to make sure that the city and my constituents in the Seventh Ward have good representation. I just want to make sure everything was done fairly and adequately.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.