Janet Esposito (left) swore in Doria Daniels on Feb. 22, 2023, to the Portage County Board of Elections in one of her last official acts in public service. Wendy DiAlesandro/The Portager
Doria Daniels has served on the Portage County Board of Elections since 2015, and Janet Esposito has served as Portage County Auditor since 1994. On Feb. 22, the two women met in one of their final official acts together as public servants.
“I, Doria Daniels, do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and the State of Ohio, and that I will enforce the election laws, protect and preserve the records and property pertaining to the elections, and perform my duties as a member of the Board of Elections to the best of my ability. This I shall do as I swear and answer unto God.”
With those words, Daniels smiled at her longtime friend Esposito, who administered Daniels’ fourth and likely final oath of office.
Anyone can administer the oath, but Daniels knew who she wanted to do it. Esposito will retire March 10 after having served Portage County for 34 years, first as county commissioner and, since 1994, as county auditor.
“She’s an honor to me because she’s done so well. She is a good woman,” Esposito said. “She’s helped a lot of people in her neighborhood go to school. She’s had a lot of friends along the way, and helped kids keep their scholarships in education. That’s our Doria. She’s quite a gal.”
Daniels was originally appointed to the Board of Elections in 2015 to finish out the unexpired term of Linda Sandvoss. Portage County’s Republican Central Committee then voted her to a three-year term that expired Feb. 28, 2019, and then to a third term spanning March 1, 2019, to Feb. 28, 2023.
This four-year term, which Daniels said may well be her last, will expire Feb. 28, 2027. Time to make way for the next generation, she said.
Local party central committees nominate board members, Board of Elections Director Faith Lyon explained. The nominations go to the Ohio Secretary of State, who runs background checks and ensures the nominees meet qualifications for board membership.
If everything checks out, the Secretary of State sends the paperwork back to the local board director, who arranges for the reorganization and swearing in.
Besides Daniels, a Republican, Portage County’s four Board of Elections members are Portage County Republican chairperson Amanda Suffecool, Portage County Democratic chairperson Denise L. Smith, and Randi Clites, also a Democrat and former state representative.
Smith will be sworn in for her new term March 6. Board terms being intentionally staggered, Clites and Suffecool still have two years left in their current mandate.
Each of Ohio’s 88 counties has a Board of Elections office that is tasked with administering local elections. Portage County’s Board of Elections office is staffed by Lyon, Deputy Director Theresa Nielsen and a full-time staff of six.
A four-person board, two Republicans and two Democrats, governs each Board of Elections. They review petitions for local, legislative, and congressional candidates and finance reports for local candidates, political parties, and political action committees.
Like the other board members, Daniels takes her role seriously.
“We oversee the elections,” she said. “We have to verify candidates when they run. We have to validate. We are actually the oversight for the Board of Elections for the county. We oversee the directors and all their staff, anything that deals with election integrity.”
Board members are responsible for anything that deals with certification of candidates, petitions, ballots, options such as local liquor options, and issues such as tax levies, Daniels said.
The four members review every bit of information before certifying anything.
“We have to all agree. If there’s any division or discrepancy, it goes to the Secretary of State. This makes certain that we have studied the issues well and come to an agreement. Three can agree, and one not, but it has to be a majority,” she said.
Though Daniels and her colleagues make sure that candidates qualify for the offices they are seeking, they do not otherwise vet candidates, or information candidates supply about their backgrounds. That’s up to party central committees or political parties as a whole.
“By the time they get to us, they should have been vetted unless something odd comes up and the courts come in. We presume the Central Committee, which has submitted these candidates, has done its job. By the time it gets to us, we should just be able to say whether they’re ballot valid or not,” Daniels said.
Staff at the Board of Elections recently flagged three would-be Streetsboro candidates for office.
Michelle Bragg, a Ward 4 candidate for Streetsboro City Council, did not meet the city’s charter requirements that candidates for city council must have lived in Streetsboro and have been a qualified voter for two years prior to seeking office.
Incumbent Ward 1 Council Member Michael Lampa wrote the November general election date instead of the primary election date on his petition. And would-be mayoral candidate Stacey Vadaj only had 48 signatures on her petition for candidacy instead of the required 50.
Aided by their staff, Lyon and Nielsen first flagged the petitions then submitted them to the board, which performed the final review.