CLEVELAND, Ohio -- An under-the-radar candidate for Cleveland mayor has been denied a place on the September ballot after county elections staff say she missed a paperwork filing deadline by a matter of minutes. Laverne Jones-Gore, who ...
Laverne Jones Gore Lonnie Timmons III, Plain Dealer file photo
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- An under-the-radar candidate for Cleveland mayor has been denied a place on the September ballot after county elections staff say she missed a paperwork filing deadline by a matter of minutes.
Laverne Jones-Gore, who unsuccessfully has run for county and city offices in the past, including for mayor in 2009, contested the rejection during the public comment portion of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections meeting on Wednesday. The proceedings grew heated at times -- Elections Board Chairwoman Inajo Davis Chappell at one point asked one of Jones-Gore's supporters to leave for interrupting her while she was talking.
"I am willing to take a lie detector," Jones-Gore said during the meeting, according to an audio recording. "I don't know why this fabrication is happening."
At issue: Jones-Gore says she arrived at the county elections office on June 29 at 3:58 p.m., two minutes before the filing deadline, and was delayed at a second-floor counter after a clerk told her to wait her turn to file. She also contests the accuracy of elections board clocks, saying they contradicted each other, as well as the time listed on her and her supporters' cell phones.
Elections officials, citing time-stamped surveillance footage, a bailiff and a cleveland.com reporter who was present, say Jones-Gore arrived on the second floor after the deadline already had passed.
"I saw her come in, and it was after 4 p.m.," cleveland.com reporter Robert Higgs, who was on the second floor to cover the candidate filing deadline, said in an interview. "I remember her clearly. I saw her arrive with a friend, and could describe what she was wearing. I remember her muttering about having to get through the sign-in [at the front desk]."
Elections officials say a Facebook post by one of Jones-Gore's supporters backs their version of events.
"Regretfully, due to automobile difficulties we arrived at the Cuyahoga Board of Elections 3 minutes after the filing deadline," reads the post, which is no longer publicly available. "After consultation with Director Pat McDonald we were informed there was no grace period for filing in 4 minutes after filing deadline, no excuses."
As part of their investigation, McDonald said he asked Higgs, the cleveland.com reporter, to submit a written statement. Higgs refused -- company policy is for reporters to not offer legal testimony without a court order -- and so county officials say they have issued a subpoena to compel Higgs to talk.
It is unusual for reporters to be subpoenaed. Higgs said he twice has been deposed as a witness in a civil lawsuit -- but not since the 1980s.
In an interview, McDonald said he issued the subpoena because having Higgs' testimony would be "great" since he is an impartial witness.
McDonald also said the filing deadline, as dictated by the Cleveland city charter, is very strict. The Cleveland law department has provided them with a written opinion to that effect that cites past case law.
"We play by the rules here. You have to be on the second floor by 4 o'clock," he said.
County officials say surveillance footage supports their version of events. However, the time-stamp of that footage, viewed by a cleveland.com reporter, shows her entering the elections building at 3:47 p.m. That's because the clock was exactly 15 minutes behind, according to a staffer with the county sheriff's department.
The elections board will meet again this Tuesday at 4 p.m. to vote on whether to accept the staff recommendation to reject Jones-Gore's petitions. Even if the petitions were to be accepted, it is likely she will fall short of the 3,000-signature threshold mayoral candidates need to make the ballot. That's because she attempted to turn in 3,098 signatures -- candidates commonly submit hundreds or thousands of extra signatures, since it is common for at least one-quarter of signatures to be found invalid.
Jones-Gore, who is black, during the Wednesday board meeting repeatedly suggested her gender and race were a factor in how she was being treated by the elections board. She is a Republican who has clashed with county party leadership in the past. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Davis Chappell, who also is black, said race, party and gender will not be factors in the board's decision. Two members of the board are Republicans, and two are Democrats.
Jones-Gore also has clashed with elections officials in the past. In 2015, the Ohio Elections Commission fined her $42,300 for failing to complete two sets of campaign finance filings in 2010, and then failing to submit any campaign finance records on 12 different occasions between 2011 and 2016, according to county elections officials. She has changed party affiliations in the past, identifying variably as an independent and, for a time, as a Democrat.
Nine other candidates, including Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, who is running for a fourth term, successfully filed to appear on the ballot for the September primary election. The top two candidates then will compete in a November run-off election.
Jones-Gore would have been the only female candidate, had she made the ballot.
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