Ohio House lawmakers raise doubts about Senate’s DATA Act

County elections officials have proposed a handful of small tweaks. Those went nowhere in the Senate, but House lawmakers sound interested.

By: - June 16, 2023 4:40 am

Voters casting ballots. | Mario Tama/Getty Images

An election data overhaul named the DATA Act continued its march through the Ohio House this week. But misgivings about how the measure would operate seem to be resonating with representatives.

The DATA Act’s stated goal is to establish consistency in the content and cadence of information county boards share. But board officials argue some provisions are overly cumbersome while others could create the inconsistencies the measure aims to remove.

The Secretary’s view

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s deputy Mandi Grandjean describes the effort as creating uniformity among county boards. In many cases those changes are relatively small — how boards define voter registration or last activity dates, for instance.

“In our bottom-up election administration system, the 88 county boards of elections may have differing definitions of these terms,” she explained. “Although that may seem innocuous, this creates a challenge when comparing voting history between counties and may even give the impression that ballots are missing from the final canvass or Ohio has same day voter registration.”

The bill also directs county boards to send the secretary an up-to-date record of their registration database daily once ballots start going out. That change seeks to address concerns raised by the Donald Trump-aligned America First Policy Institute. The group criticized elections officials for not having an election day snapshot of that database to support an external audit. AFPI argued that violates the Civil Rights Act of 1960.

Grandjean argued those regular updates will streamline board operations in Ohio.

“The county boards of elections will realize significant time and cost savings,” she said. “Our hardworking boards of elections will save valuable time and money. Because the election data that was previously gathered via daunting survey requests will be automatically reported.”

State Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

The tweaks

Lucas County Board of Elections director LaVera Scott laid out the position of the Ohio Association of Election Officials. She explained they don’t oppose the measure’s goals or most of its provisions, but there are a handful of changes that could have unintended consequences.

She warned the secretary should follow county practice and only display birth year to avoid identity theft. Imposing a 4 p.m. deadline for daily submissions doesn’t work with some county’s schedules, she argued. The use of postmarks, Scott added, for voter registration date only makes sense around the deadline.

Rep. Bill Seitz pressed the Grandjean about the insistence on postmarks.

“Because it seems to me,” he said, “at a minimum, that would require not only keeping the form but keeping the envelope in which the form was mailed. And that seems kind of dumb.”

Grandjean only reiterated their desire for data entry consistency. Later, Seitz asked Scott about limiting voter information to birth year, when the full birthdate is a public record. She argued that little bit of friction might make a difference.

“If there’s barriers in front of that, they may not go through all of those steps to do so,” she said. “We do not think that this will be an end all and will stop people from trying to attempt to steal someone’s identity but we do believe and hope that it will be a hinderance.”

Rep. Bob Peterson, R-Sabina, who chairs the committee, asked Scott to explain her opposition to the 4 p.m. deadline.

“If we’re closing at different times, but all submitting data at the same time,” she argued, “we do believe that there will be inconsistencies in the data.”

State Rep. Richard Brown, D-Canal Winchester. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

The view from county boards

Elections officials raised the same issues in a Senate committee, but the measure advanced through the chamber without changes. Grandjean pushed back on the critiques noting elections officials participated in discussions about drafting the legislation. But Rep. James Hoops, R-Napoleon, urged her to consider changes.

“It sounds like there’s still some issues here and they’re the ones that are out in the field trying to make sure we have legit elections out there,” Hoops said. “So, I would, I guess I would say, you know, to kind of listen to what their concerns are.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Richard Brown, D-Canal Winchester, cut to the chase, asking Scott if the changes are actually necessary.

“We agree that transparency may be needed,” Scott began, before adding a significant caveat — “due to the fact that there are some people who no longer believe in the integrity of elections.”

“We believe that if that transparency helps people, if it increases voter turnout, if it increases people’s confidence in the voting process, we would like that to happen,” she said. “But we do believe that there are some things that do not need to be necessarily changed.”

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.