Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose talks to reporters. (Photo by Susan Tebben, OCJ.)
The state’s elections chief is pulling together a new method that he hopes will bolster trust in November’s general election, and others in the future.
State Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office announced the “public integrity division,” which it says “consolidates many of the office’s current investigative functions, including campaign finance reporting, voting system certification, voter registration integrity, the investigation of election law violations, data retention and transparency and cybersecurity protocols.”
The role of the division will be to “investigate and pursue attempts to obstruct, intimidate, or interfere with any elector in registering or voting,” according to the LaRose’s office.
Though all of these mechanisms are already in place, LaRose wants to address skepticism in elections, such as those who denied the integrity of the 2020 election. Election deniers will also be on the ballot in Ohio, hoping to be elected to various positions throughout the state, including an independent candidate for secretary of state.
“Our elections are being scrutinized like never before, and any lack of absolute confidence in the accuracy and honesty of those elections weakens the very foundation of our democracy. It’s the duty of my office to earn and maintain that trust,” LaRose said in a statement announcing the new division.
LaRose cited an NBC News poll that found 1 in 5 registered voters consider “threats to democracy” the most important issue facing the country.
The state’s secretary of state has continually touted the security of elections and previously said voter election fraud is “exceedingly rare” in the state.
Election advocacy groups, who have their own election protection measures implemented during elections, say the extra step may not be necessary, but it can’t hurt to encourage voting in the state.
“We have folks in Ohio who are extremely suspicious of election results, and it’s hard to come up with a way to encourage them to trust the results of an election,” said Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio. “This public integrity unit is (LaRose’s) attempt at thinking about how best to bring voters back to the idea that their votes will be properly counted.”
Turcer and Jen Miller, head of the state’s chapter of The League of Women Voters, are both confident that elections are being held in a bipartisan way, through efforts to make sure political parties are evenly represented in the poll workers working at voting locations and other pre-set safeguards.
“But just as threats can evolve so must our election safeguards,” Miller told the OCJ. “We welcome this announcement, because it reaffirms our state’s commitment to election integrity.”
While the groups see the public integrity unit as a positive, they hope the integrity works not only in ensuring a safe election, but also in keeping the administration accountable.
“If there’s greater transparency with it, and if there’s bipartisan checks and balances, it’s very likely that Ohio voters will come to understand that our votes are properly tabulated, and if there’s a problem, there’s a good audit process,” Turcer said.
One criticism of the division and LaRose came from the Equal Districts Coalition, an anti-gerrymandering group made up of several organizations across the state continuing to urge the Ohio Redistricting Commission, of which LaRose is a member, to go back to work passing constitutional district maps, which the state currently does not have for the November election.
“Voter fraud in Ohio is exceptionally rare, but rigged districts that cheat voters out of their voices have become commonplace,” the coalition said in a statement.
Legislative and congressional maps have gone through the General Assembly five times and twice, respectively, with no map approved by the Ohio Supreme Court. November’s election will run using legislative maps pushed through by a federal three-judge panel, and congressional maps that were set to revised after the state’s highest court rejected them in July, but as yet have not seen any public work by the General Assembly or the ORC.
“Only securing the full power of Ohioans’ vote under fair maps would fully restore faith in our elections,” the Equal Districts Coalition concluded.
The division is set to start work on October 10, but no new investigators will be put in place until after the November general election, LaRose’s office stated.
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