Friday, February 18, 2000

Fairfield councilman accused of vote fraud

Elections board reports findings to prosecutor

Enquirer Contributor

        HAMILTON — Fairfield City Councilman Jon V. Saylor could face criminal charges after the Butler County Board of Elections concluded Thursday that he had created sham voters and falsified absentee ballots and other voting documents to help get elected last November.

        “There is clear and compelling evidence of deliberate, systematic and extensive voter fraud,” said Donald Daiker, chairman of the elections board. “This is the clearest case of voter fraud that I've come across in my years in Butler County politics. I think he knew exactly what he was doing.”

        Mr. Saylor, 27, won Fairfield's 1st Ward seat, 820-678, over Mike Snyder.

        After two days of hearings, the board sent a report to the Butler County prosecutor alleging that Mr. Saylor:

        • Knowingly registered people in a precinct in which they were not qualified to vote.

        • Impersonated another to obtain an absentee ballot and helped a person vote an absentee ballot illegally.

        • Interfered with the conduct of an election.

        • Tampered with ballots.

        • Signed the name of another person to an election document with intent to defraud or deceive.

        • Possessed false election records.

        Mr. Saylor could face felony charges for violating Ohio election laws, said Betty McGary, deputy director of the elections board.

        “I expect (Prosecutor John F. Holcomb) to prosecute it,” said elections board member Carlos Todd. “I think he'll be very diligent on it. It's not about politics, it's about protecting the integrity of the election process.”

        Mr. Saylor quickly left the hearing Thursday after his lawyer told elections officials he would not testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He refused to comment on the allegations to reporters.

        Elections officials said the possibility of removing Mr. Saylor from office rests with the people of Fairfield. But city leaders say there is little they can do — at least in the short run — because the actions happened before Mr. Saylor became a councilman.

        “At the moment there is no legal remedy to City Council,” Councilman Sterling Uhler said. “I'm sure we would try to remove him if he's found guilty of a felony. We just have to wait and see a little bit how we dig ourselves out of this.”

        He said someone could initiate a recall petition in the 1st Ward, but that can't be done until Mr. Saylor has served at least six months. Mr. Saylor also could be removed if he has three unexcused absences from council meetings.

        Mr. Snyder said Thursday he was stunned at the board's findings.

        “I'm truly offended, as I imagine most voters in this area are, to think this sort of activity can actually happen in our own backyard,” he said.

        At least a dozen questionable ballots were counted during the Novem ber election, officials said.

        During the hearings, several witnesses testified that they signed blank voter registration and absentee ballot request forms for the Fairfield council elections, even though they didn't live in Fairfield. Some witnesses said they gave their voted absentee ballots to Mr. Saylor.

        At Thursday's hearing, Peggy Wallace said Mr. Saylor's fiancee, Cynthia McCloud, gave her voter registration and absentee ballot forms to sign. She said Ms. McCloud told her the ballot would be mailed to Ms. McCloud's apartment and that Ms. McCloud would give it to her when it came.

        Ms. Wallace said she never saw the ballot, which was voted and returned to the elections board.

        Ms. McCloud said she did provide the forms for Ms. Wallace, but that she doesn't recall receiving the ballot.

        “I had intentions of calling (Ms. Wallace) and letting her know when it arrived,” Ms. McCloud said. “If I had seen it, I would have called her and let her know I had it.”

        Ms. McCloud said both she and Mr. Saylor had keys to her apartment mailbox.

        “The campaign is ultimately the responsibility of the candidate,” Mr. Todd said. “I think Mr. Saylor has used a lot of people to his advantage for this. He's the primary one that investigation should start with.”

        Board member Donald Dixon urged Mr. Saylor to testify.

        “Everyone's had some sort of an explanation, even if it didn't make a lot of sense,” he said. “We're trying to find a conclusion that makes sense of all of this.”


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