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Bennett#8217;s candidacy challenged

Two of three people who have filed to run as Independent candidates in the November primary had their petitions certified Thursday by the Lawrence County Board of Elections, but one of the two will still face a hearing to determine if a protest against his candidacy has any merit.

Jon Ater is seeking the county recorder’s office and Russell Bennett is running for sheriff. Both had more than the required 191 signatures and met other requisites to run as Independents. Bennett had tried to run as a Democrat in the primary election but was disqualified because the required background check was not current.

Another candidate, Lester Brumfield, will not be allowed to run as an Independent for county commissioner.

“He had enough good signatures, but he voted a Republican ballot in the primary so he can’t run as an Independent,” deputy elections director Eric Bradshaw explained.

Bennett will still face opposition to his candidacy: Lawrence County Auditor Ray T. Dutey has filed a formal protest. In his protest letter, Dutey said Bennett has a 20-plus-year history of voting as a Democrat. Though he voted as a non-partisan in the March primary, he was listed as a member of the Democratic Central Committee as late as April 18, which is after he filed to run as an Independent. Dutey also said Bennett has an open campaign finance committee from the 2004 primary and general elections (when he ran against incumbent sheriff Tim Sexton).

“The last report was received and filed with the Lawrence County Board of Elections on Sept. 25, 2006, and shows an outstanding debt. This establishes that he retains Democratic status,” Dutey said in his letter.

Dutey also said Bennett can’t seek election by filing two petitions (as a Democrat in the primary and as an Independent in the general election) for the same county office.

“His claim of being ‘Independent’ of party affiliation was made only after his Democratic petition was disallowed,” Dutey said in his letter. “His declaration of un-affiliation was not made in good faith but only as a way to have his name placed on the ballot and this board must not approve the Independent petition as it is not in compliance with Ohio law.”

Bennett disagreed.

He said he is entitled to run as an Independent. He voted as a non-partisan in the March primary and voted only on the issues on the ballot and did not vote for any candidates.

“It’s two completely different things, two completely different elections. The primary and general elections are two different things and I have a right to change my politics to Independent,” Bennett said.

The hearing on Dutey’s protest to Bennett’s candidacy will be 4:30 p.m. May 15 at the board of elections office.