Bob Bennett Resigns from Cuyahoga County BOE

CLEVELAND (AP) - The leader of the Ohio Republican Party has resigned as chairman of the troubled Cuyahoga County elections board, the last holdout following an order from the state's top elections official for all four board members to step down.

Robert Bennett had been fighting Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner's March 19 order and a removal hearing was planned for Monday in suburban Euclid.

But Bennett issued a statement Wednesday saying he would leave after Brunner acknowledged there was no wrongdoing by the board.

"I recognize that continuing to serve on the board with the current adverse relationship with the Secretary of State was not in the public interest and she came to understand that, while there had been problems in the past, there was no wrongdoing by the board," Bennett said in a statement. "The Secretary of State wants to create the board in her own image, and she will have that opportunity."

Brunner sent Bennett a letter thanking him for his resignation and service. She disagreed with his characterization of the settlement, saying she dismissed "without a finding of fault" a complaint filed against Bennett after he initially refused to resign.

"This saves the community a rehashing of many of the problems it's dealt with up to this point and it allows the board to move on in a very positive way," Brunner said.

Brunner suspended Bennett from the elections board last week and announced that any policy or procedure changes by the board must be approved by her through the end of 2008. The three other board members resigned last month.

Brunner has accused the panel of shoddy work, including elections glitches and cost problems. The county has experienced election problems, including improperly trained poll workers and a hand count of 18,000 absentee ballots that delayed the May 2006 primary results for days.

Brunner said the last straw in asking for the board members' removal was the sentencing of two elections workers to 18 months in prison. The workers were convicted of selectively picking the ballots so that they could avoid a more thorough review of the votes in the 2004 presidential recount.

Bennett had argued that things were improving and that last November's election went well in Cuyahoga, which includes Cleveland and has more than 1 million registered voters among a population of 1.3 million.

He faced a removal hearing Monday before an attorney appointed by Brunner, who would have made the final decision regarding his removal.

Bennett wouldn't have been able to appeal her decision. His only legal options would have been to file a lawsuit or ask the Ohio Supreme Court to intervene.

Bennett's resignation is effective May 1, when the county Republican Party will collect applications for the seat.

By state law, the elections board consists of two Democrats and two Republicans. Brunner anticipates that next week she will appoint Jeff Hastings, a former county Common Pleas judge who was recommended by the Republican Party.

Bennett praised Hastings' pending appointment and said he was confident that the party would nominate an equally qualified person to occupy his seat.

Brunner will choose the board's two Democrats after the county's Democratic Party decided not to nominate candidates.

"I'm looking forward to helping this board move on so it can provide fair elections that people can trust," Brunner said.