Secretary LaRose says voter ID is popular, but won’t say if it’s needed

By: - January 5, 2023 5:00 am

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose talks to reporters. (Photo by Susan Tebben, OCJ.)

Ohio’s top elections official last month continued to make seemingly contradictory statements about election security in the Buckeye state. Secretary of State Frank LaRose has repeatedly said that fraud is extremely rare in Ohio elections and then made statements claiming that it’s a problem.

Most recently, LaRose tweeted an opinion article from the Washington Examiner that dubiously claimed that “One need not be a conspiracy theorist to recognize that voter fraud does occur far too often…” The secretary tweeted it in apparent support of a voter ID law that Ohio Republicans passed in last month’s lame duck session of the legislature.

False claims that there is widespread voter fraud in the United States have undermined faith in elections and democracy, with 61% of Republicans believing that the 2020 election was rigged against former President Donald Trump, according to a poll conducted in September. They believe that even though Trump’s false claims have been rejected in scores of legal proceedings and many senior members of his administration have said they’ve seen no evidence of widespread fraud.

LaRose’s office didn’t respond to repeated requests to comment for this story. But in his public statements, he seems to say he’s conducted secure elections in Ohio while also throwing a bone to the part of the Republican base that believes Trump’s falsehoods about fraud.

“In Ohio’s elections, it’s easy to vote and hard to cheat — that’s the message I had for Republican congressmen from across America tonight in our nation’s capital,” LaRose tweeted on Nov. 16, 2021.

But on Dec. 20, 2022, LaRose tweeted the opinion piece from the Washington Examiner’s Quin Hillyer.

“For decades, almost every polling organization showed massive public approval of voter ID laws, usually with well over 70% support,” LaRose wrote in his tweet. “Large majorities of Republicans, Democrats, centrists, blacks, whites, Hispanics, and all income groups favor voter ID.”

In its first paragraph, the article made a questionable assertion.

“Despite all the Left’s mendacious claims about widespread ‘voter suppression,’ legislators responding to overwhelming public opinion continue to adopt new, reasonable safeguards for voting integrity,” it said.

Hillyer might call claims of voter suppression “mendacious,” but MIT’s Election Data and Science Lab says research into the matter has produced mixed results, citing “deficiencies in data quality and sensitivity of results to choices made in statistical estimation.”

There’s reason to suspect that photo ID requirements disproportionately affect minority groups that tend to vote for Democrats. They’re less likely to have allowable IDs in the first place. 

And as for Hillyer’s claim that voter fraud occurs far too often, he linked to a Heritage Foundation database that hardly proves that point. It lists 1,400 “proven instances of voter fraud” and 1,200 “criminal convictions.” But the database stretches back decades across scores of elections in which at least hundreds of millions of votes were cast.

In Ohio, for example, it lists 54 instances since 2000 and the convictions include acts that might not amount to fraudulent voting, such as “ballot petition fraud” and “miscellaneous.” 

Gov. Mike DeWine has questioned whether the voter ID bill passed last month is needed and his press secretary, Dan Tierney, on Tuesday said that the bill was received Dec. 29 and the governor has until Jan. 11 to decide whether to sign it.

For his part, LaRose found that just one in every 222,000 votes cast in Ohio in the 2020 election might have been fraudulently cast. But his spokesman didn’t respond when asked why the state needs to make it harder to vote when instances of in-person fraud are so rare.

It’s not the first time that the state’s top elections official transmitted contradictory messages about voter fraud.

Last February, LaRose took to Twitter to attack an article in The Hill, a Washington, D.C. news organization.

“Here they go again,” LaRose tweeted. “Mainstream media trying to minimize voter fraud to suit their narrative. The Hill uses a press release from my office to falsely claim ‘there’s nothing to see here – move along.’ WRONG!”

However, the story he was slamming was about how LaRose found less than 0.0005% fraud in the 2020 election and quoted a statement issued by LaRose’s office: “Our state is proof positive you don’t have to choose between secure or convenient elections — we have both,” LaRose 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.”

In a follow-up tweet, LaRose said, “President Trump is right to say voter fraud is a serious problem.” 

Trump is under investigation over a number of schemes to overturn his loss in the 2020 election — including demanding that state-level officials “find” him enough votes to win and the creation of fake slates of electors. Trump hasn’t been charged in the schemes, but if proven they would be part of one of the biggest frauds on voters in American history.

LaRose’s credibility on issues relating to voters was significantly dented late last year. 

In November, he announced an effort to hustle a measure through the lame duck session that would have made it much harder to pass voter-initiated amendments to the Ohio Constitution. In a press conference, LaRose denied that it was intended to block amendments to protect abortion rights and to end Ohio’s extreme partisan gerrymandering

But a few weeks later, the Cleveland Plain Dealer obtained a letter by the man sharing the stage with LaRose, Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Asheville. In it, Stewart contradicted LaRose, telling fellow Republican law blocking such amendments was the purpose of the bill.

The measure failed.



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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.