UrbanCincy.comowner Randy Simes off the local voter rolls.
The lawsuit was filed less than two weeks after the board of elections ruled that Simes is eligible to vote in Cincinnati.
The case has been mired in politics since it was first filed to the board of elections. Simes’ supporters claim the legal actions are meant to suppress Simes’ support for the streetcar project and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls’ mayoral campaign. Proponents of the lawsuit argue they’re just trying to uphold the integrity of voting.
Attorney Curt Hartman is spearheading the lawsuit. He regularly represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), a conservative group that opposes the streetcar project and Qualls.
The lawsuit claims Simes isn’t legally able to vote in Cincinnati because he currently resides in South Korea and lived in Chicago prior to the move overseas.
Ohio election law requires a place of residency to vote, but someone can remain on the voter rolls if he or she intends to return to the city or state while in another part of the country or overseas.
Simes’ supporters, who the board of elections sided with on Oct. 14, claim Simes has every intention of returning to Cincinnati when he’s done with his work in South Korea. Simes’ contract with his employer, Parsons Brinckerhoff, states he’ll return to Cincinnati in two years.
Until then, Simes is registered to vote at a condominium owned by his friend and business colleague, Travis Estell.
According to Estell’s testimony to the board of election, Simes kept a key and sometimes stayed for a week when he came and went from the residence throughout the spring and summer. Simes also has credit card and bank mail sent to the address, and he attempted to change his registered driver’s license address to match the residence, Estell said.
But Hartman says the evidence, which was gathered largely through Simes’ social media activities, shows Simes was a visitor, not a resident. He cites Estell’s testimony that Simes lived out of a suitcase and didn’t pay rent when he stayed in Cincinnati.
Tim Burke, chairman of the board of elections and Hamilton County Democratic Party, says there’s a reason three out of four members of the board, including one Republican, agreed Simes should remain on the voter rolls.
“The facts that were presented didn’t rise to the legal standard of clear and convincing evidence to justify depriving the voter of his right to vote,” Burke says.
Burke likens the arrangement to a Procter & Gamble employee who spends a year or two overseas but still keeps the right to vote in Cincinnati. Burke says someone could even sell his home in Cincinnati and keep his right to vote from the sold residence.
Hartman says the comparison doesn’t work because a Procter & Gamble employee would live in and keep ties to Cincinnati prior to moving overseas. He claims Simes’ decision to register to vote from Chicago in 2012 effectively broke his electoral ties with Cincinnati and Ohio.
But the argument could be rendered moot. Burke, who is named as one of the defendants in the lawsuit, says the legal challenge might not make it to court because two different people filed the lawsuit to the court of appeals and complaint to the board of elections. That could render the lawsuit procedurally defective and lead to a dismissal, according to Burke.
The lawsuit currently has no scheduled hearing or judge, but Hartman says he hopes to expedite hearings in time for the Nov. 5 election.