SIDNEY — A former member of the Shelby County Board of Elections has been nominated to return to the board. But this time, instead of representing the Republicans, Chris Gibbs, of Maplewood, will be a Democratic member of the board.
Tom Kerrigan, chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee, said the party received the resignation of current board member James Thompson, of Botkins, on Nov. 28.
Thompson’s resignation was effective Nov. 21. In his letter of resignation, Thompson wrote, “Thank you for the opportunity to again serve our community during my tenure as board member. It has been a pleasure to serve with the current board members and under the excellent guidance of Board Member (Merrill) Asher. I look forward to serving Shelby County again, perhaps, in a different capacity.”
The committee met Tuesday, Nov. 29, and unanimously recommended Gibbs replace Thompson on the board.
Gibbs shared his thoughts on seeking the nomination to return to the board of elections.
“In recent years, much has changed in how Boards of Elections are viewed by the public. Election denialism, Boards used to exert political advantage, and physical threats to election officials have become commonplace on the national stage in recent cycles. While we’ve been fortunate here in Shelby County to have avoided much of that, I want to be a part of ensuring our local Board remains dedicated to the voters of Shelby County and maintains their trust even as discourse continues on the national stage,” said Gibbs.
He said it doesn’t matter which party you represent on the board. All that matters is ensuring the voters of Shelby County have every opportunity to cast their votes.
“There will be no difference. I believe party has no place within the walls of the Board of Elections anyway, so I don’t see any difference in how I’ll represent the Democrat Party,” said Gibbs.
Gibbs has one goal he wants to accomplish as a board member if his appointment is approved by the Secretary of State’s office.
“Neither the Democrat Executive Committee nor Chairperson (Tom) Kerrigan provided any marching orders if I’m appointed by the Secretary of State. What I will be working on is ensuring the County Commissioners are viewed by the Board as a partner and not an adversary. While it’s not appropriate for commissioners to be involved directly in election policy and procedure, it’s crucial they be a full partners in finance, contracting, and security. Ensuring the commission is up to speed with the board’s actions only helps them support us when the Commissioners are approached on the street and asked questions about Board actions. I always remember what a mentor told me years ago and that was to follow the Golden Rule when it came to those who set your budget. That is, ‘Those who got the gold, make the rules.’” said Gibbs.
One of the first actions the board will be making in the near future is hiring a new deputy director.
“The new deputy needs to be comfortable interpreting and carrying out policy and procedure. They also need to be able to create a partner relationship with the over 140 poll workers and election officials who staff our precincts. Also, I’m very sensitive that the new deputy takes their instruction from the Board of Elections and not from party influencers. Having Board members being controlled remotely is bad enough, but having an employee being influenced by those outside the office for political gain is untenable. That only erodes trust in the electoral system, and I won’t tolerate it,” said Gibbs.
Gibbs said he’s looking forward to rejoining the board.
“Our election officials and poll workers are the foundation of our electoral system. I’m looking forward to meeting them all once again and making sure they know they are supported,” said Gibbs.
In a letter to the Executive Committee, Gibbs wrote, “Between 2007 and 2019 I served the board as both member and chairperson. During that period I was proud the board functioned a a non-political team ensuring Shelby County voters were provided every opportunity to exercise their uniquely American right to vote.
“In my view, the key to meeting that goal was to ensure our employees and election officials were supported and respected while the public remained well-informed of the electoral process. These simple but critical acts are necessary to retain what has become a fragile public trust,” wrote Gibbs.
He said in recent years, “much has changed in how Boards of Elections are viewed by the public. Election denialism. Boards used to exert political advantage and physical threats to election officials have become commonplace on the national stage in recent cycles. As you consider a nomination, be aware I am resolute that as a member of the Shelby County Ohio Board of Elections, I will not entertain nor tolerate acts of denialism, political advantage or disrespect of Board employees from anyone, or any Party. This is my commitment to you.”
Gibbs is the owner/operator of Gibbs Farms LLC. He retired in 2016 as the USDA Farm Service Agency county executive director. He was an adjunct professor at Write State, Lake Campus, from 2011-2012.
He received an associate’s degree from the Ohio State University Agricultural Technology Institute, Wooster. He is currently the president of the Gateway Arts Council Board of Trustees. He is also the president of Rural Voices USA and served as chairperson of the Ohio-Israeli Agriculture and Clean Tech Initiative Advisory Board.
The Executive Committee’s recommendation was sent to the Shelby County Board of Elections, who in turn, sent the information to the Secretary of State’s Office for their approval.
Thompson’s term is up March 1, 2025.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.