Secretary of State discusses priorities
Frank LaRose recently visited Lake County
Newly sworn-in Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has been making his to way to boards of election across the state and recently made a stop in Lake County.
The Hudson Republican said he’s been making the rounds to introduce himself to the boards of election teams around the state, letting them know “they have a partner in Columbus.”
“The Secretary of State has an important role overseeing the county boards of election, but by and large they do great work and I’m just here to partner with them.”
With just about three weeks on the job, LaRose said he’s also trying to learn from the boards, whose leadership teams can have years and decades of experience.
“I’ve picked up a lot along the way that helps me better understand when my staff brings an issue to my attention, I understand what they’re talking about because I’ve been to the rooms where they tabulate the votes, I’ve seen the equipment, I’ve seen the offices, I’ve seen where they store the equipment,” he said.
“I learned this thing in the army about when you’re the guy in charge, sometimes people tell you what you want to hear and surround you with sunshine and rainbows when that’s not necessarily the truth,” LaRose said. “When you come out and visit the county boards of elections, if something’s screwed up they’ll tell you.”
Last year the Ohio legislature approved funding for counties to purchase new voting equipment. Some counties are replacing their equipment this year, others are waiting until 2021, the year after the next presidential election. Lake County has not yet made a final decision on when new equipment will be implemented.
LaRose said that some county election officials were planning on just throwing the old equipment away. He wants to find an e-waste recycler to “do something better than just literally truck loads, tractor trailer loads of voting machines in a landfill, which doesn’t make any sense.”
After speaking with the Lake County Elections Board and touring their facilities, LaRose spoke to the News-Herald about some of his priorities as Secretary of State.
He said security of elections will be one of his focuses. He has a proposal he wants to bring to the state legislature that would create a chief information security officer for the Secretary of State’s Office. That person would focus on election security not only for his office, but would also assist the county election boards as needed.
LaRose said he also wants the state to pay the return postage for mail-in ballots.
“In the scale of state budgeting, the amount of money we would need to just go ahead and make it a postage paid return envelope is a worthwhile investment,” he said.
Also along the lines of voting convenience, currently to submit an absentee ballot request requires paper. LaRose said wants that process should be online, just like the voter registration process.
Non-state office candidates are still required to submit campaign financing reports in paper. LaRose said he also wants to change that. Since 2000, state candidates have submitted their reports on the Secretary of State’s website by uploading a spreadsheet.
Having the reports online allows easier access to see who is giving money to candidates, both in terms of accessibility and searchability.
“I’ve been proposing this for three years in the legislature that we finally allow countries to receive electronic filings for campaign finance,” said LaRose, who served as a state senator before being elected Secretary of State. “It’s just better transparency, it’s sort of moving it into the 21st Century.”
When asked about potential changes to the way Ohio removes inactive voters from the rolls, LaRose said the existing process has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and the process is “sort of well understood
“The Secretary of State has an important role overseeing the county boards of election, but by and large they do great work and I’m just here to partner with them.” — State Frank LaRose
in Ohio because it’s been in place for a long time.”
That doesn’t mean it’s ideal, he said.
“It’s not. Again, it’s sort of based on this antiquated system of ‘we assume if we haven’t heard from you in six years that you’re dead or have moved.’ We can do better than that now. There has to be a way to remove voters that we believe have moved or passed on. I think that we can look at a longer timeframe, maybe eight years or whatever, but we can also use technology a lot better. The National Change of Address database. Systems like (Electronic Registration Information Center), which is a multi-state collaborative... and I’d like to see a more automated process for updating addresses and registering people to vote.”
He said the majority of people interact with the state government at least once a year, whether it’s paying taxes, renewing drivers license or getting a fishing license, etc. All of those create opportunities to update people’s voting addresses.
“We don’t take that advantage right now, but a lot of people assume we do,” he said.
They should be better able to coordinate across the different “silos” of state government, LaRose added.
“So when somebody goes to get their fishing license, that should create an opportunity to register them to vote or update their information.”
During his tour of the facilities, Lake County Elections Board Deputy Director Jan Clair asked LaRose his thoughts on vote centers. The idea was first implemented by Colorado, where voters can cast ballots on Election Day at any polling location in the district, regardless of their residential address. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are now 13 states that allow vote centers.
LaRose said he’s open to the idea.
“It’s a cultural change, right? So anytime that we make changes like this, there has to be wide public acceptance before we can do it, but it’s certainly more efficient.”
He said he wants to talk to the Ohio Association of Elections Officials about that idea and said he wouldn’t move forward without “broad buy-in” from both the Democratic and Republican parties.