ELYRIA — Robert Gilchrist, the former service director of Lorain who briefly led the Lorain County Community Action Agency last year, has been indicted on four felony counts of illegal voting.
Gilchrist, 42, was booked into the Lorain County Jail on Monday and later was freed on a personal bond.
The charges against Gilchrist center on where he voted in elections held in November 2009, May and November 2010, and May 2011.
During those elections, Gilchrist voted in Lorain’s 2nd Ward, even though he didn’t live there, an investigation by the Lorain County Board of Elections determined.
Gilchrist had been living in Broadway apartments until August 2009, when he moved to an Oak Point Road home, the investigation showed. He remained there until he took possession of the house he bought on Fields Way in the city’s 8th Ward in December 2009. He had purchased the Fields Way house a few months before he moved in.
The elections board investigation also determined that Gilchrist had signed petitions to get six Democratic candidates on the May 2011 ballot, including for then-Mayor Tony Krasienko, and listed his address on Fields Way, even though he was still registered to vote in the 2nd Ward.
Gilchrist changed his address with the elections board in August 2011 after Lorain resident Denise Caruloff raised questions about where he was living and where he was registered to vote.
Caruloff said Monday she was pleased to learn Gilchrist had been charged and hopes he faces prison time.
“This isn’t stealing gum out of a gumball machine,” she said. “This is voting fraud.”
Caruloff said Lorain City Councilman Dennis Flores, D-2nd Ward, first told her that Gilchrist was still registered to vote in the 2nd Ward even though he had moved years earlier, and she brought the matter to the attention of the elections board.
Gilchrist, who did not return a call seeking comment Monday, previously has said he voted where his driver’s license said he lived and insisted that he never intentionally did anything wrong.
But county Prosecutor Dennis Will said intent isn’t a factor in the illegal voting charges Gilchrist faces. He said it’s a question of whether Gilchrist had moved but continued to vote under his old address.
“You have an affirmative duty to change your address when you change your primary address,” Will said.
Gilchrist’s attorney, former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, previously has said she believes Gilchrist was singled out for prosecution. Brunner could not be reached for comment Monday.
Supporters of Gilchrist, who is black, also have previously suggested the allegations were leveled against him because of his race.
Caruloff, who is white, denied that race was a factor in her complaint, noting that she also raised questions about former Lorain School Board Member Paul Biber’s residency. Her complaint against Biber, who is white, was dismissed by the elections board.
“It was never about race,” Caruloff said. “It was about being ethical and doing what you’re supposed to do.”
Elections board Director Paul Adams said his office occasionally deals with allegations of voters casting ballots in the wrong place, but typically those deal with the elderly or someone with a mental issue.
But he described what Gilchrist did as a “blatant” violation of the rules requiring someone to change their voter registration after moving.
“I think it’s a perfect example that we take any kind of voting violation seriously,” Adams said.
Gilchrist left his city job last summer to take over running Lorain County Community Action Agency, but his term there was overshadowed by the voting investigation and a domestic violence allegation for which he was never charged.
The poverty-fighting agency’s board fired Gilchrist in October because of the scandals surrounding him. A permanent replacement has yet to be named.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.