COLUMBUS, Ohio (WDTN) – The way the State of Ohio manages its voter rolls has been a point of controversy for the past few years.
Some thought the situation would improve when Frank LaRose was elected as the new Secretary of State because he is a self-proclaimed election nerd.
Having interviewed LaRose a number of times on the topic of elections, I have observed firsthand how passionate he is about the process of voting and making sure everyone who is eligible to vote gets that chance.
I have also observed his equal passion for making sure those that should not be voting don’t sully the sanctity of that most precious right we citizens share, granted to us by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights that ban restrictions on voting based on race, sex and age.
Technically, the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly state we have a right to vote, at least not in the affirmative; and the Supreme Court has ruled that citizens do not have the right to vote for electors for president in Bush v. Gore back in 2000.
But that aside, the idea that our democratic republic is based around is that citizens choose our leaders by voting and each person eligible to vote gets one, and only one vote.
And that is why keeping accurate voter rolls is so important. We can’t have people voting that aren’t eligible whether that is because they’ve already voted somewhere else or because they are casting a vote for someone who is no longer alive.
The purging of ineligible voters from the rolls is important to limit, decrease, and eliminate fraudulent voting in such a fashion.
To do that, Ohio set forth rules by which names on the rolls could be removed based on the activity of the person they belong to. If the person does not vote, after a set amount of time, they can be removed from the rolls.
Often the lack of voting is attributed to death, you can’t vote if you aren’t breathing, or leaving the state to live somewhere else. There are mechanisms in place that allow people to cancel their registration if someone moves out of the state, but not everyone uses them.
There is a third reason someone may have registered to vote and then fails to do so for a set period of time; the just don’t want to vote.
It is this third category that draws the most concern from voter rights advocates because if that voter changes their mind they should be able to exercise that non-explicitly granted right to vote if they want to without hassle.
They view going to the polls to vote only to find out they have been removed from the list of eligible voters because they haven’t voted, as a hassle.
Now, technically, if you are purged from the rolls you might be able to cast a provisional ballot (which is just as good as, and counts just as much as, a regular ballot). Under the previous Secretary of State and current Lt. Governor Jon Husted, there was an exception offered that if the voter still lived at the same address as the one they were purged from, that provisional ballot would count.
But that same exception has not officially been accepted by the current Secretary of State Frank LaRose.
LaRose, who is halfway through his 8th month on the job, has admitted the voter registration and maintenance process could be better, more efficient, streamlined. As a state lawmaker he actively pursued this kind of legislation, and now is in a position to put his ideas into place as policy at the administrative level.
His office released a statement today indicating it plans to work with the General Assembly to make the changes he seeks more permanent through legislative changes.
LaRose wants to make it so that every time you interact with state government from paying your taxes, to getting a driver’s license, to purchasing a fishing license, your voter registration information is updated.
Having accurate information helps keep track of who is alive and who is dead; who is still living here in Ohio and paying their taxes and who has moved on (or will be in a ton of trouble for not paying their taxes).
LaRose has a vision for where he wants to get to, fundamentally reshaping the current process and system to something he feels will be better for everyone.
But getting there takes time, and while we are on that journey voter rights groups are quite concerned about the here and now.
Earlier this year a problem with a purge list in four counties was found through a financial audit.
It turns out roughly 1,300 people were added to the purge list that should not have been, as they did not fit the qualifications to be purged.
Had they been purged, their rights would have been violated and laws would have been broken.
The problem was resolved and around 265,000 other people were dumped from the rolls.
In three weeks, another purge is scheduled this time with 235,000 people on the list for removal.
That is 490,000 people that either died, or moved out of the state sometime in the last few years.
But there is another problem.
After the last issue popped up, LaRose asked for lists of names of people who are scheduled to be removed to be provided from the county boards of elections prior to the purge.
Those lists were given to voter rights groups a few weeks ago; they consisted of names and voter id numbers, no phone numbers, no email addresses, or anything else. So for the past few weeks voter rights groups, these small organizations with limited funding, has had to track down information using third party sources.
They claim that within the last 24 hours they have identified more than 4,500 names on the list of people to be purged that are also listed as active on the Secretary of State’s website; which is problematic to say the least.
If you are listed as active on the Secretary of State’s website, how can you be inactive for the length of time necessary (several years) to be on the purge list? Is the question voter rights advocates want answered.
The groups say this could be the tip of the iceberg since they are just now getting to the point of being able to start sifting through the purge list and compare it to the Secretary of State’s registry.
That is why they are calling for a postponement of the purge. They are not asking for it to be canceled indefinitely, only delayed as long as is necessary to verify the purge list is 100% accurate.
While they are willing to help in this effort, they feel it is not their job to be doing this.
“Maintenance of voter registration lists is one of the most important jobs that boards of elections and the Secretary of State are tasked with and while we are happy to help, let us remember that it is their job to make sure that our lists are accurate,” said Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio.
Miller says the Secretary of State has an obligation to protect eligible voters from being mistakenly purged just as much as an obligation to making sure the people who have moved away from Ohio and the dead are purged from the voter rolls.
They are asking for him to slow things down and make sure due diligence has been done.
The office of the Secretary of State says, they cannot postpone or delay the purge, due to law. If they do not purge on September 6 they will be breaking the law.
Voter rights advocates say, either way a law will be broken if even a single eligible voter is mistakenly purged, and preventing an eligible voter from voting is far worse than pausing action on removing a dead person or someone who isn’t even in the state from the rolls.
LaRose was unavailable Thursday to interview for this story. His office did release an announcement that they will be making an effort to reach out to more than 168,000 eligible voters that have not yet registered to vote.
Voter rights groups hope to get around a table with LaRose, who clearly cares about voting and all that goes into it, and hash out a solution before someone is taken off the rolls that shouldn’t be.