Ohio Secretary of State rejected old absentee forms for Issue 1, then allowed supporters to use them
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. Photo by Morgan Trau, WEWS.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose seems to have selectively applied the rules around Ohio law to benefit Issue 1 supporters after they made a mistake by sending out old absentee ballot request forms. Within hours, LaRose announced they were OK to use, but in June, when a Cleveland newspaper printed old forms, dozens of readers who submitted them were rejected.
Groups around the state are facing confusion and difficulties with Ohio’s new election law that was put in place this year.
“I am very much for simplifying these procedures and making sure everybody gets counted,” anti-abortion advocate Austin Beigel said.
Although Beigel believes that everyone is responsible for making sure they are following the law when it comes to voting, he understands that sometimes aspects can be overcomplicated.
“We want this issue to be clear and people to have ease of access to their polls and to get their votes counted — so nobody doesn’t get their vote not counted on some ridiculous technicality,” he said. “But you’ve got to be correct.”
He supports Issue 1, the proposal to make it harder to amend the Ohio Constitution, which will be on the ballot this Aug. 8 special election.
But the change in how absentee ballots are requested has caused confusion for the Vote Yes on Issue 1 team.
Up until the beginning of 2023, there was no one specific form for requesting absentee ballots.
A new law signed in January that went into effect this April made a requirement of one specific form.
Mike West with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections explained that the Cleveland Jewish News published an outdated form in June.
Sending in the wrong form caused dozens of readers to have their requests for mail-in ballots rejected by the Board.
“That’s what the law says, that you have to use one specific form,” West said.
Some more changes
A week later, supporters of Issue 1 made the same mistake, but they got a different result.
Within hours of the Vote Yes team admitting the error, LaRose sent a message to boards of elections that outdated ballot requests can be accepted now.
“If a voter submits an absentee ballot application on the Secretary of State’s previously prescribed form, the application may be accepted so long as the voter includes a valid form of ID required by H.B. 458,” the note from the state elections office said.
Jewish voting rights advocate Jodi Jackson explained people in her community should have the same opportunities.
“Coming from an area, part of the state in the county that skews more towards the ‘Vote No’ — ‘you can’t use it,'” Jackson said. “Then when it happened with the ‘Vote Yes’ — it just — it came across as being very hypocritical. Secretary LaRose is a leading proponent of ‘Vote Yes.'”
OCJ/WEWS asked Cuyahoga County why one group got approved and the other rejected.
“Well, that’s kind of dangerous territory for me because that’s really the secretary of state’s call,” West said.
OCJ/WEWS reached out to LaRose to ask why, especially since West said LaRose was aware of the outdated ballot requests in Cleveland. As has happened with previous requests from OCJ/WEWS for comment, the secretary did not respond.
LaRose has some semblance of discretion to interpret the law, but waffling the rules at this time is unacceptable, Jackson said.
“The whole thing just kind of smacks of just a sneaky, manipulative, last-ditch effort to get ahead,” she said.
Ohioans will likely get to choose this November if abortion should be legally protected in the state constitution.
On July 5, Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights delivered hundreds of boxes containing thousands of signatures required to place a proposal to amend the Ohio Constitution to legalize abortion in the state on the November ballot.
The group filed more than 700,000 petition signatures supporting reproductive freedom in the state gathered in all 88 Ohio counties over the course of 12 weeks, about 300,000 more than was necessary to be on the ballot.
Republicans in the state had a trick up their sleeve, though. They snuck in an August election, despite banning them a few months prior, to take place on Issue 1.
Issue 1 would raise the threshold for a constitutional amendment to pass from a simple majority, or 50% plus one, to 60%.
Jackson isn’t surprised by this change of heart from LaRose, citing numerous examples of the secretary flip-flopping or what she calls “duplicitous” behavior.
“I find it unfair and I find it hypocritical,” Jackson said. “But actually, it’s very consistent with some of the other changes and reactions that have happened along the way.”
Regardless of the political leanings, Beigel said this situation doesn’t seem fair.
“This shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he said. “If we’re going to use the old forms and they should get counted, they should all get counted.”
Ohioans can still apply to vote by mail until the evening of August 1. Click here to get the correct form to fill out.
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