Ohio Secretary of State Assures Voters Their Ballots Are Safe

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Voter fraud? Not in Ohio, says the state’s chief elections officer.

Despite claims by President Donald Trump during Tuesday’s debate with former Vice President Joe Biden of potential widespread election fraud on Nov. 3, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose Wednesday assured residents here that their vote is safe.

“In Ohio, absentee voting is trusted and secure,” LaRose said after he addressed the Rotary Club of Youngstown’s monthly luncheon at Cassese’s MVR. “It’s something we’ve been doing for a long time. Ohioans trust it and they know it’s an easy way to cast their ballot.”

LaRose’s remarks come one day after Trump and the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, Biden, squared off in Cleveland in the first of three presidential debates. During the acrimonious and chaotic exchange, Trump, a Republican, made frequent charges that the upcoming election on Nov. 3 would be “fraudulent.”

“Not in Ohio,” LaRose told reporters. “When you really look at the way elections run, certainly in the state of Ohio, it’s a trustworthy process that people know and understand.”

LaRose, a Republican, said that he doesn’t support either presidential candidate in his official capacity as Secretary of State. “I wear the referee’s jersey,” he said. “This is a commitment I made a year ago when I said publicly that I’m not endorsing candidates.”

Secretary LaRose addressed the Rotary Club of Youngstown on Wednesday.

He says the state is staffed with bipartisan officials who faithfully monitor the election process at their respective county boards of elections. “We’ve got good rules in place, we’ve got good laws in place, and we’ve got some really dedicated people who are going to enforce those rules and laws.”

Every vote, LaRose said, has a paper trail that can be documented and verified.

Early voting and absentee voting begins Oct. 6, LaRose said. Spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 2 million absentee ballot applications have been received at boards of elections statewide as of Sept. 25, which includes 24,222 requests from military and overseas voters. At a comparable period during the 2016 election, 957,260 absentee ballots had been requested.

During his talk to Rotary, LaRose urged those voting by absentee to mail their applications as soon as possible. “If everybody sends their absentee ballot requests at the end of October, it will overwhelm the boards of elections.” It’s also important to mail the ballot without delay once a voter receives it, he added.

Voters, however, cannot request a ballot via a fax machine or email, per a court decision filed late Monday in Franklin County. “I’ve been a long-time supporter of creating a true online ballot request system,” he said.

However, asking a board of elections to open an email directed to them presents security issues and invites potential hackers into the system. “It’s a recipe for disaster,” he said.

Or, voters can take their absentee ballot directly to their local board of elections and place it in a drop box. LaRose has issued a directive limiting each county board of elections to a single drop box. He said it’s the first general election in the state’s history in which every county has a secure drop box for ballots.

The Ohio Democratic Party challenged LaRose’s directive in a complaint filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, arguing that counties should have the authority to expand the number of drop boxes during a pandemic.

Two weeks ago, Judge Richard Frye found that LaRose was “arbitrary and unreasonable” in limiting counties to a single drop box. LaRose’s office issued a statement shortly afterward that said the ruling did not impact his directive.

He declined to comment on the litigation Wednesday.

“The easiest way is to mail it in,” he said of the absentee ballot.

Absentee voters can then track their ballots through the Secretary of State’s website at VoteOhio.gov, he said.

The state has also taken steps to ensure that all poll locations are compliant with mask distribution and sanitization practices, so in-person voting can be done safely, LaRose said.

“When you come to vote, it’s going to be a safe and healthy environment to be both a poll worker and a voter,” he said.

LaRose said he wants to increase the number of poll workers throughout the state to 55,000 at Ohio’s 4,000 polling locations. Normally, it takes a minimum of 37,000 to open and close the polls.

“We’re telling our boards of elections that they should have 150% of their normal allocation,” he said.

The additional workforce is necessary in case of, for example, a resurgence of COVID-19, LaRose said. “We need to have that reserve force trained and ready to go,” he said.

In Mahoning County, LaRose said the board still needed 194 Democrats and 191 Republicans to meet his quota.

“It’s a long day’s work, you get paid, but more importantly you’re doing an important service to help us defend democracy in a very challenging time,” he said.

The state has found some creative ways to encourage poll worker participation this year through nonprofit organizations, he said. Members of these groups, for example, could work at the polls and donate their pay to their organization.

“We’re calling it Work A Day, Donate Your Pay,” LaRose said. “It could be a nice little fundraiser,” he added, noting that many organizations were forced this year to cancel more traditional events such as golf outings or dinners because of the pandemic.

He also urged young people to get involved in the process, noting a state program called Youth at the Booth, which allows 17-year-old high school seniors to volunteer as polling places in Ohio. Such a distinction would look favorable on a college application, he added.

LaRose said that free and fair elections are integral to the country’s democracy and need to be respected regardless of political affiliations.

“This work is not about a party. It’s so much bigger than that,” he said. “It’s about making sure we can establish that consent of the governed through a free and fair election, accessible to all, where the diverse voice of Ohioans could be heard. Anything less would be a disservice to our entire way of life.”

Pictured at top: This Saturday, March 14, 2020 file photo, shows a view of a ballot box on a counter prepared for early voting at the Warren County Board of Elections, in Lebanon, Ohio. Ohio and Republican groups including the Trump campaign are defending a GOP election chief’s directive limiting ballot drop boxes in the critical presidential battleground to one per county. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster, File)

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.