Once claiming moderation, Ohio secretary of state says Trump has a point about voter fraud

By: - February 9, 2022 4:00 am

Secretary of State Frank LaRose announces the referral of 117 cases of alleged voting and voter registration fraud stemming from the 2020 elections. Photo courtesy The Ohio Channel.

When he was running for office in 2018, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said overblown election claims by Democrats and Republicans hurt Americans’ faith in democracy. Democrats overhype what they call voter suppression and Republicans overblow claims of voter fraud, LaRose said at the time.

Now that he’s running for reelection, LaRose, a Republican, is singing a different tune. He went so far last week as to claim that former President Trump — who has relentlessly lied about voter fraud and tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election — has a point.

LaRose took to Twitter to accuse the media of unfairly downplaying the threat of voter fraud.

“Here they go again,” LaRose tweeted. “Mainstream media trying to minimize voter fraud to suit their narrative.”

LaRose followed that with a series of tweets in which he played up referrals of possible voting crimes that his office made to Attorney General Dave Yost. Then LaRose wrote this about voter fraud elsewhere: “It’s an even bigger problem in other states where laws & leaders are weak. President Trump is right to say voter fraud is a serious problem. More to come.”

That’s a far cry from what LaRose was saying on the campaign trail in 2018. 

Nobody “should overstate the existence of either fraud or suppression because I think what it does is undermines the confidence that voters have,” WKSU quoted him as saying at the time.

Now, having found one possibly fraudulent vote for every 222,000 cast in the 2020 election, LaRose is insisting it’s a serious problem. Confusingly, he made that Twitter statement after issuing a press release in which he seemed to say it wasn’t.

Inflated claims of voter fraud don’t just undermine faith in democracy, as LaRose said in 2018. Critics say they can also be used to justify laws that critics say are really intended to make it harder for people of color — who tend to vote Democratic — to cast ballots.

A possible example in Ohio: LaRose continues to limit the number of ballot drop boxes in each county to one, even though the courts have said he doesn’t have to. Critics say that effectively makes it easier to vote in small, rural counties, which tend to vote Republican, than it does in large urban ones, which tend to vote Democratic.

“Over the last 20 years, states have put barriers in front of the ballot box — imposing strict voter ID laws, cutting voting times, restricting registration, and purging voter rolls,” the Brennan Center for Justice said on its website. “These efforts, which received a boost when the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act in 2013, have kept significant numbers of eligible voters from the polls, hitting all Americans, but placing special burdens on racial minorities, poor people, and young and old voters.” 

In his tweet storm last week, LaRose was referring to an article in The Hill, a Washington, D.C. news organization. He was accusing it of improperly using a press release from his office in service of a story about how vanishingly rare voter fraud is.

As context, the story cited an Associated Press analysis of the 2020 presidential election finding that of the 25.5 million votes cast in the closest states — Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, Nevada and Wisconsin — fewer than 425 ballots had been identified as suspicious despite a raft of audits and recounts. 

Most of the ballots weren’t counted and some had potentially innocent explanations, such as the Wisconsin man on parole who said he thought he was allowed to vote, the analysis said.

LaRose’s office found 27 “potentially illegal” Ohio votes cast in the 2020 election, which would at most represent 0.0005% of the total. The release from the state’s top elections official said he was making a total of 62 referrals, 31 of which were non-citizens who registered but didn’t vote, it said.

LaRose’s own words in the release seem to say that fraud wasn’t a big problem.

“Our state is proof positive you don’t have to choose between secure or convenient elections — we have both,” it said. “In Ohio, easy to vote and hard to cheat aren’t mutually exclusive. At the end of the day, these referrals are all about accountability. Lawbreakers should know we take election security seriously, and we won’t tolerate even one unlawful vote to go unpunished on my watch.”

LaRose’s spokesman was asked to provide evidence that voting fraud was more prevalent in “states where laws & leaders are weak.”

The spokesman, Rob Nichols, declined to answer that and other questions.

“We’re comfortable letting the voter fraud referral release from last week and the Secretary’s tweets speak for themselves,” he said in an email Monday.

Among the questions Nichols didn’t answer were several pertaining to Trump — whom LaRose praised — and democracy. 

Before the 2020 election, the former president on numerous occasions said he would claim massive fraud if he lost. Trump continues to make those claims even though they’ve been thrown out of scores of courts and his own attorney general has said they’re untrue.

LaRose in 2018 said that overhyping voter fraud undermines faith in democracy, but this week his spokesman wouldn’t say whether he believes Trump’s constant false claims about massive fraud are doing so now. That’s despite the fact that only about a fifth of LaRose’s fellow Republicans believe Joe Biden’s victory was legitimate in an election that Trump’s own homeland security officials called “the most secure in American history.”

LaRose’s office also didn’t answer whether LaRose thought Trump himself might have attempted to commit vote fraud when, in early January 2021, the president called the Georgia secretary of state, a Republican, and pressured him to “find 11,780 votes” — exactly how many he needed to reverse his loss in the Peach State. That incident is now the subject of a criminal investigation.

Nor did LaRose take an opportunity to refute Trump’s false claim late last month that Vice President Mike Pence could have overturned the 2020 election. Pence himself refuted the claim last month.



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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.