Two Montgomery County Board of Elections members removed by Secretary of State Jon Husted failed to convince a federal judge that they should be immediately reinstated. Democrats Thomas Ritchie and Dennis Lieberman were dismissed in August by Husted, a Republican, after they violated an August 15 Husted directive setting uniform early voting hours in all 88 Ohio counties.
Ritchie and Lieberman sued Husted for wrongful termination in September, arguing that their removal was arbitrary and violated their First Amendment rights. The plaintiffs requested that U.S. District Court Judge Walter H. Rice grant a preliminary injunction overruling Husted’s decision and restoring them to their Board of Elections positions.
In court testimony, Ritchie said, “I think that I’ve been tainted,” claiming, “what’s happened is going to be life changing for that reputation that I tried to build.”
“My children will have teachers approach them about this. Other kids will say: Hey, I saw your dad got fired,” Lieberman testified. “Some will ask when I’m getting arrested. It’s impacted him. More my high-school level son than my college son.”
In his decision to deny the request, Rice wrote that Ritchie and Lieberman have failed to “identify any fundamental right or liberty interest that was violated by their removal from the Board.”
“While both Plaintiffs speculated as to the possible impact their removal might have on their careers, their families, and their reputations, they presented no evidence that the alleged harms were likely to actually materialize,” Rice wrote.
In an October 25 press release regarding Rice’s decision, Husted said, “today’s decision is a victory for accountability in our elections system. Rules must be followed and I will continue to hold individuals accountable who fail to do so.”
According to Husted, Ritchie and Lieberman “knowingly and willfully violated Ohio election law“ by voting to ignore a directive from the state’s chief elections official. Ritchie and Lieberman argued they voted to extend early in-person voting hours because they thought the directive was a minimum suggestion - although the secretary of state’s office had informed them Husted’s directive set the “only days and hours” for early voting.
Ritchie, an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 8 employee paid $131,599 in 2011, accused Husted of attempting to suppress the rights of minorities and college students in order to tilt the election towards Republican candidates.
ASFCME Council 8 is one of Ohio’s largest public employee unions.
Prior to an August administrative hearing to determine the future of their employment status as election workers, Ritchie and Lieberman appeared at a rally sponsored by union front We Are Ohio to protest their pending termination.
For their claims of persecution at Husted’s hand, Ritchie and Lieberman have become minor celebrities within national Democratic Party circles. The two have been repeatedly interviewed by left-wing cable network MSNBC, and were keynote speakers at a private breakfast at the Democratic National Convention.
Speaking before more than two hundred attendees of the Ohio Democratic Party-sponsored event, Ritchie said that, “the ‘secretary of suppression,’ Jon Husted, he and his cronies have got a plan, and that is to steal this election.”
After overruling Ritchie and Lieberman’s motion, Judge Rice scheduled a conference call for November 13 to set a trial date. Rice declined to rule on Husted’s motion to dismiss the complaint.