Miami County Board of Elections discusses vaccine mandate

By Sam Wildow

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TROY — The Miami County Board of Elections broached the topic of mandating vaccinations for the board’s office staff and poll workers during a meeting on Wednesday, not taking any official action at that time.

“I think we need a vaccine mandate for our employees here,” Chairman Dave Fisher said. Fisher said this would be an “opportunity for us to take the lead” by requiring their office employees and poll workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The board’s office has approximately four full-time employees and two part-time employees, not including the poll workers on Election Day.

Fisher said COVID has touched his life three times now, and he also spoke about wanting to protect people who are immunocompromised.

Board member Jim Oda said he did not disagree with Fisher, but he asked if they had the legal power to mandate the vaccine.

Both Director Laura Bruns and Deputy Director Ian Ridgeway spoke about their concerns with potentially losing poll workers, whom the board already has difficulty getting enough hired for each election.

“I would anticipate that we would lose some people who would choose not to work if they were required to be vaccinated,” Bruns said.

“We’d probably lose a decent amount of poll workers,” Ridgeway said.

Board member Rob Long asked if the Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose or the Miami County Commissioners issued any guidance on COVID vaccines, and staff said that neither have provided any guidance.

Bruns said, during the November 2020 election, the board’s office found out after the election that a poll worker had tested positive for the virus and was most likely positive during the time frame of the election. She said they never heard of that incident turning into a super spreader event, saying it did not turn into an issue.

“We never heard anything about any kind of that becoming a super spreader event. We notified the other poll workers, but it didn’t turn into a big issue like we were afraid that it could,” Bruns said. “I have very big concerns about requiring it.”

Fisher said he was only bringing up a vaccine mandate for discussion, saying he wanted the board members, along with the director and deputy director of the board, to think about it. He said he did not want to act on it that evening.

“Science is on the side of the vaccine,” Fisher said. The topic was also personal for Fisher, who recently lost a family member to the virus.

“I’ve lost a family member this past week due to a super spreader event over Thanksgiving. She was 90 years old. She contracted it and died within a week,” Fisher said.

A local resident interrupted the meeting, bringing up break-through cases of COVID infections.

“You want to get people to give up their freedoms. That’s ridiculous,” the resident said.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, there have been 44,406 hospitalizations and 13,327 deaths related to COVID since Jan. 1, 2021 “among individuals not reported as fully vaccinated” in the state of Ohio versus 2,652 hospitalizations and 646 deaths among fully vaccinated individuals in the state during that same time frame. That data was last updated Dec. 15.

Oda stated the resident was speaking out of turn and that she could speak at the end of the meeting if she had more comments.

“I’m going to stand up for my fellow Americans,” the resident said.

Board member Audrey Gillespie said she had “mixed emotions” about requiring it for poll workers. She said they could also consider requiring COVID tests for employees who did not want to get vaccinated.

The board members ended the discussion, stating they would potentially bring it back up at their next meeting.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, approximately 47.85% of the county has had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

In other news:

The board approved having their director and deputy director look into finding new space for the board due to challenges the board is facing with its current space, which is currently in parts of the first floor of the Miami County Courthouse. The Miami County Commissioners recently notified the board of the commissioners’ intention to take some of the space the Board of Elections is using. That space will likely go to the Miami County Municipal Court.

Bruns said the commissioners offered space for the board to use in the basement of the Miami County Safety Building, which is located across the plaza from the courthouse.

Bruns said there is “no easy access” to the location in the Safety Building for their equipment, adding that space is “not set up in the way that we feel would be conducive for security.”

A new lease space for the Board of Elections would have to be authorized by the county commissioners.

The board members discussed having the office draft a letter to the county commissioners discussing their obstacles with losing the space in the courthouse, not only in terms of storage, but also in terms of access for early voters.

Also on Wednesday, the board discussed the directive the board received from the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office regarding the review, examination, and verification of petitions to the statewide petition on the “Act to Control and Regulate Adult Use Cannabis,” which would legalize use of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol submitted 206,943 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office this week. If at least 132,877 are found to be valid, the act can be submitted to Ohio legislators for consideration. If legislators do not approve the act, then the coalition can collect an addition 132,877 signatures to send the issue to Ohio voters for the November 2022 ballot.

The board received approximately 217 petitions with approximately 1,400 signatures. Three of the petitions were found to be for other counties.

“These are due back to the Secretary of State on Thursday of next week,” Bruns said.

The board also approved precinct updates for the portions of Huber Heights located in Miami County, splitting those two precincts into four. That change is pending approval from the Secretary of State.