YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The Mahoning County Board of Elections voted Monday not to accept petitions filed by a Poland Township trustee to run as an Independent for Ohio State Representative.
Eric Ungaro has been a life-long Democrat. However, he made the decision to run as an Independent.
This created an issue with the Board of Elections.
“He has told this board and has told the whole world, ‘I’m an Independent.’ I, this morning, looked at his website where he’s using the Democratic logo. That therefore is an invalid declaration,” said David Betras, Board of Elections chairman.
Ungaro says the photos on his website gallery are from years ago. He says there are photos where supporters and family members have on old shirts that have a small Democratic “D” on them. He says they simply haven’t updated the photos yet and he has met all the criteria.
“My signatures were valid. I got 762. I did not vote in the last two primaries… those criteria were met,” he said.
Another issue was a donation Ungaro made to Democratic candidate Vincent Peterson II who recently won the primary election for Ohio’s 64th House District seat. Ungaro says the donation was not motivated by party affiliation, but by personal relationship. He says he coached Peterson for years and has a close relationship with him.
“He’s like a son to me,” Ungaro said, stating he would support him no matter what party he was running for.
Ungaro compared it to other personal relationships, such as his relationship with his father, who is also a Democrat.
“So what if I have pictures with my father who is a lifelong Democrat who fought long to take on corruption?” he asked.
During the Board of Elections meeting, a vote was taken on whether or not to accept the petitions, with concerns that Ungaro had not fully disassociated himself with the Democratic Party.
Initially, the vote was tied, with Vice Chairwoman Sandra Barger and Joyce Kale-Pesta voting to accept the petitions and Betras and Robert Aurandt voting against it.
As the meeting was coming upon two hours, the board decided to take a revote. First, Betras explained to the board why he was against it.
“I think if you’re gonna file something with a public authority, that it means something. It means something if you say, ‘I’m an Independent and the next day go out and say, ‘I’m a Democrat.’ We’re more than just a rubber stamp, we’re the gatekeepers of petitions,” Betras said.
The revote ended with a 3 -1 vote against accepting the petitions, with Kale-Pesta changing her vote to no.
Ungaro says he’s working with his attorneys to fight the decision and that ultimately it will be up to the Ohio Supreme Court to decide whether or not he ends up on the ballot.
“Since 2018, Americans are moving more to Independent voters because we are losing faith in the system that is in place. I happen to be one of them. If a photo of my deceased father at an event — that we chose to keep up in his memory — is going to keep me off the ballot, then the Ohio Supreme Court will have to tell me,” Ungaro stated in a press release on Monday.