Wednesday, February 23, 2000

Tainted vote opportunity for renewed faith




BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For a guy who lost an election tainted by possible voter fraud, Mike Snyder still believes democracy works.

        He's not even soured on running for office. If nominated, he'd do it again.

        “I hate to sound like a chump,” the former Fairfield City Council candidate told me. “But all my life, even In findings given to the Butler County prosecutor, the board alleged the councilman committed voter fraud by tampering with some ballots and falsifying some voter registrations. So far, most of the votes cast seem legitimate, so the election has not been overturned.

        Councilman Saylor had unusually broad support at the ballot box.

        “Ghosts, people we could not find, cast absentee ballots for him,” said Bob Mosketti, director of Butler County's Board of Elections. “He also had people voting for him from Hamilton County and Kentucky.”

        Those votes were ultimately disqualified by the Board of Elections. The system worked.

        Mike Snyder's 691 votes came from Fairfield's 1st Ward, a long stretch of the city that covers soybean farms and heavy industry, one-room apartments and trophy homes.

        A Detroit native, he has lived in the city for 20 years. His wife is from Hamilton. They met when he was in the Air Force and she worked at General Electric's Evendale plant.

        “We settled into sleepy Fairfield,” he said. They raised three children. And he took a job as an account manager at Convergys Corp. He went into politics after volunteering to run the local cable system's camera at Fairfield City Council meetings.

        For two years, “the second and fourth Monday of the month was dad's night out.” He'd go to council meetings and aim the camera while city officials discussed “ho-hum stuff.” Should Fairfield buy a new police cruiser? Does the golf course need more sod?

        The ho-hum stuff appealed to him. “Somebody has to do it.” So last fall he ran for council. And lost.

        Mike Snyder is not bitter about the defeat or the alleged fraud.

        “Even without the contested ballots, more people voted for Jon,” he said. “Win. Lose. Life goes on.”

        He admits his experience at the polls could be “grist for the cynical.” The voting scam could be used as an example that all politicians are crooks. No sense participating in the process. Don't pick up a newspaper, think about the issues or bother to cast a ballot. Your vote doesn't count. The elections are fixed.

        The last thing America needs is another excuse for more people to stay home on Election Day. Voter turnout is already abysmally low. Fairfield's 1st Ward has 8,575 registered voters. Only 1,632 — a measly 19 percent — voted in November's election.

        Mike Snyder believes Fairfield's Election Day irregularities and the resulting investigation could increase rather than decrease voting rates. “This showed the people that dishonesty is not going to be tolerated.”

        The handling of the Fairfield affair also renews my faith in the system. Ballot tampering is a sad act, a horrible crime against democracy. The allegations of fraud were reported, investigated and exposed. The system has worked. So far. The next move belongs to the prosecutor who can slap the councilman with felony charges of violating Ohio's election laws.

        The thorough investigation of any irregularities with ballots helps make future elections safe for voters honestly doing their civic duty. Candidates like Mike Snyder who campaign with a respect for the system feel encouraged to enter the race.

        Honest voters and candidates can preserve democracy's greatest gift — the right to cast a vote that counts.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at (513) 768-8379; fax 768-8340.