Burress Again Suspected Of Election Fraud

CINCINNATI - While the Ohio Secretary of State is busy selecting a law firm to investigate allegations that Citizens for Community Values Action (CCV Action) essentially acted as a conduit for improper campaign donations during the 2004 presidential election, a Hamilton County judge has raised questions about CCV Action leader Phil Burress's conduct regarding a 2006 ballot issue which also targeted gays and lesbians.

On July 20, the Cincinnati Inquirer published an article stating that Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman was taking Rep. Tom Brinkman, Jr. (R-Mount Lookout) (no pun intended) to task for his role in allegedly changing more than 1,000 addresses on petitions aimed at repealing Cincinnati's gay rights ordinance – signatures collected by Phil Burress's group Equal Rights Not Special Rights (ERNSR).

According to the Inquirer story, Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor David Stevenson told Judge Ruehlman last Wednesday (July 18) that Brinkman, also described as "a leader" of ERNSR, had admitted changing the addresses on the petitions to make them valid. Brinkman, however, denied making any such statement, and stated on July 19 that, "I personally did not touch a single address or date or signature or name or anything."

However, there is no question that petition addresses were altered, and that several fraudulent names, including those of Fidel Castro and Cincinnati Reds owner Bob Castellini, appeared among the 7,656 petition "signers" – a figure that was just two signatures more than the number required to put the repeal referendum on the ballot.

The Inquirer reported that, "In several instances, the names and addresses of the signer [sic] were crossed out and replaced with the addresses of registered voters in order to make them appear valid," and that "Burress withdrew the petitions, but the complaint was forwarded to prosecutors."

Even the attempt to submit fraudulent names and addresses on a ballot measure petition is a crime, although prosecutors said that campaigns are allowed to strike out information on a petition, but only if it's done "under the direction and by the authority of the signer."

Taking Brinkman's alleged admission to Stevenson as fact, Judge Ruehlman accused Brinkman of complicity to commit election fraud, noting that even his grade school-age granddaughters know not to sign somebody else's name.

Two women, Lois Mingo and Precilla Ward, both of whom worked for a temp agency, Labor Ready, which had been hired by ERNSR to collect signatures for the petitions, have been indicted on charges of altering the petitions – but with Brinkman now denying that he had any hand in the alterations, the question remains, who ordered the women to make the changes?

Citizens to Restore Fairness, an organization which grew out of Equality Cincinnati, the leading local group working for the rights of gays, lesbians and transgenders, challenged the petitions and filed a complaint with the Hamilton County Board of Elections. Hopefully, the elections board, in its investigation of this matter, will not overlook whatever role Burress may have played in the election fraud.