‘DATA Act’ would create consistency in Ohio voting records, supporters say

Some senators remain skeptical because of Trump group’s input

By: - March 16, 2023 4:50 am

A Voting Location Manager assists a voter with the ballot counter machine during the Ohio primary election, May 3, 2022, at the Noor Islamic Cultural Center, Dublin, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal. Please only republish photo with story with which it originally appears.)

Officials from the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office put their weight behind Senate Bill 71 this week. The DATA Act would create uniform definitions for various voter data and codify specific record-keeping standards.

Democrats worry about the influence of a Donald Trump-aligned think tank.

The Secretary’s view

Mandi Grandjean spoke on behalf of Secretary Frank LaRose; she serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State.

Because Ohio’s election system starts with 88 county boards, she explained, the legislation will set terms so everyone’s data line up. The measure sets explicit definitions for voter registration date depending on whether a voter delivered a form in person (date stamped received) or mailed it in (date postmarked).

“Although that may seem innocuous,” Grandjean argued, “this creates a challenge when comparing voting history between counties and may even give the impression through the data that ballots are missing from the final canvass, or Ohio has same day voter registration, which we know is not the case.”

She described a 2018 incident in which Miami County left out 6,000 votes. Officials didn’t discover the problem until after the official canvass. The missing votes wouldn’t have altered the races, but Grandjean insisted that sort of oversight is “unacceptable.”

“With the enactment of the DATA Act, the Miami County incident could have been avoided,” she argued. “The Board of Elections in the public would have immediately realized the number of voters who voted did not equal the number of ballots that were counted.”

The response

No one, regardless of party, has yet come out in favor of voter fraud. Modernizing the infrastructure underpinning voting systems typically get a positive reaction, too.

Still, some lawmakers are taking a much harder look at the DATA Act’s provisions because of the involvement of the America First Policy Institute. The think tank, made up of former Trump officials and fellow travelers, is building a policy framework to go with Trump’s rhetoric.

Sen. Bill DeMora, D-Columbus, called AFPI a “policy institute of election deniers” and was left scratching his head at their role in drafting the bill.

“You quote them as being one of the people who helped you with this draft bill, and of course they’re doing it all across the country, because they’re trying to undermine elections across the country,” Demora argued. “So I don’t know why you’re offering this as a help to our elections, when it’s drafted by the same people that don’t recognize our current president of the United States.”

Grandjean pushed back, arguing that the Secretary’s office, and “no one else” helped draft the bill with sponsor Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green.

At CPAC, LaRose invoked SB 71 by name describing it as “written with and with the support of America First.”

Grandjean pointed to an AFPI report detailing purported discrepancies between the state voter file and the final canvass.

“We believe that anybody that has any information about any perceived discrepancies in the state of Ohio, of course, we should absolutely talk to them and understand what they’re saying and actually get to the root of the issue if there is actually an issue,” she said.

Grandjean contended the issues AFPI highlighted in Ohio come from an “inflated voter history number.”

She said that stems from inconsistencies in how the counties report data that SB 71 would address.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.


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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.