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Panel upholds disputed GOP win in Ohio House race

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A Republican-controlled committee recommended on Tuesday that the Ohio House of Representatives let stand a GOP candidate's eight-vote victory from last year.

The results of the House race between Republican Rep. Al Landis and Democrat Josh O'Farrell have been disputed for months, though Landis has been seated and performing the duties of a state representative since January. The 98th House district covers Tuscarawas and part of Holmes counties.

Keeping the seat Republican means the GOP would hold onto its 60-vote majority in the House. That majority allows Republicans to more easily place a constitutional amendment on the ballot or override a governor's veto without a Democratic vote.

The full Republican-led House must still vote on the committee's recommendations in the form of a resolution.

The panel chairman, Republican Rep. Matt Huffman of Lima, said he expected the vote to come later this month, after the resolution sits for a 10-day period so lawmakers can further review it.

State law gives the House the right to judge an election of its own members.

In February, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor ordered evidence and other records collected in O'Farrell's challenge to be transferred to the House.

A report by Republicans on the House committee found that O'Farrell failed to offer "clear and convincing evidence" that election fraud or irregularities would have changed the outcome, though Democrats continued to argue that multiple ballots were mishandled and not counted.

The GOP-led committee voted along party lines Tuesday to accept the report and recommend that the House uphold the seating of Landis as valid and in compliance with state laws and rules.

The ranking Democrat on the panel said committee members failed to take additional testimony and do a more careful review of the votes.

"Today, to just issue a two-page report saying no laws have been violated, the constitution has been followed — I mean, that's just completely false, and I think a complete dereliction of our duty to have a fair process and to hear this election contest," said Democratic Rep. Kathleen Clyde of Kent.

Huffman said the arguments didn't meet the burden of proof. He also noted that a bipartisan board of elections certified the results, showing Landis as the winner.

"The contestants in these things need a decision," he said. "The decision is ultimately yes or no. The decision isn't maybe and we keep thinking about it for a while."

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