The House Democratic Caucus today sent a letter to Secretary of State Frank LaRose addressing recent major developments in Ohio’s elections. Last week, the country watched in horror as Post Office mailboxes and processing machinery were dismantled and removed across the country and in Ohio.
While that was happening, the Secretary held a press conference to announce he was prohibiting all counties, no matter their size and population, from having more than one drop box. He also said he would not make voters wear masks into polling places, despite the state health order and, a choice that could endanger workers at the polls and responsible mask-wearing voters. He also recently ordered Boards of Elections to send confusing voter purge mailings to 119,000 Ohioans now, with voting starting in one month.
The members raised their concerns with these alarming choices and demanded that Secretary LaRose do everything in his power for voters in these unprecedented times. The caucus provided him a 16-point checklist of what they would like to see from his office including:
- Multiple secure drop boxes
- Paying return postage
- Keeping all polling locations open
- Online absentee ballot application
Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson of Toledo said:
“I am very frustrated by the Secretary’s recent treatment of Ohio voters and so are my colleagues. We came together as a caucus and decided we had to take a stand for our constituents. The citizens of Ohio elected us to be their representatives and we take that job very seriously whether we’re on the House floor or advocating on their behalf with our state leaders. We have proposed solutions and we will keep doing so as new problems arise.”
Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney of Cleveland said:
“After witnessing Sec. LaRose’s election mess in March, Ohioans know that the global pandemic and an overwhelmed Postal Service threatens their right to vote. The question – one we’ve asked for months – is: What are we going to do about it? This is no ordinary time. It requires extraordinary efforts to protect our Republic. Our letter includes 16 actions that the Secretary could take under his own authority. If he refuses to take any of these practical steps to make voting easier, then sadly his true aim will be clear: voter suppression.”
See the letter below:
August 18, 2020
Dear Secretary LaRose,
As legislators, it is our job to make policy for the state of Ohio. And it is your job to run elections in this state. Part of our duty is also to advocate for the needs of our constituents as the pandemic continues and the challenges for our election increase. We have done our job and we now ask that you do yours. Laws are in place and our citizens need you to take it from here.
Statutes are not scripts for the daily functioning of an executive office. They direct you in your work to provide services to the citizens. However, the directives that you are authorized and required to issue are supposed to provide for the detailed administration of elections and all the activities necessary to carry them out. That’s why you have issued a 443-page manual for election officials made up of your directives.
We did not pass a law requiring you to go on a craft brewery voter outreach tour. We did not pass a law requiring you to purge infrequent voters. But you have used discretion and found authority for the things you want to do. We ask you to use that same spirit to expand voting access during this pandemic. Use your existing authority to do outreach in Black communities, pay return postage, stop blocking multiple secure drop boxes, allow electronic application for absentee ballots, and more.
Mr. Secretary, we are very concerned with how your office has handled recent events.
You held a press conference Wednesday, August 12th to announce you had decided to limit drop boxes to one per county. You said the only drop boxes Ohioans need are the “blue mailboxes” on America’s streets. You left out that you learned from the Postal Service one week earlier, that they were going to have trouble handling our state’s election mail. You left out that just one block from your office, right in the center of downtown Columbus, those blue mailboxes were being unbolted from the street and hauled away. You knew from the primary election that changes in mail processing were impacting the flow of ballots to boards of elections. And now we learn that sorting machines have been dismantled and removed from Ohio’s mail processing plants. We struggle to understand why, knowing all of that, you would make it harder for voters to return their ballots.
You recently sent another voter purge order to the county boards of elections with less than 90 days to go before a presidential election with the purge to take place in December. Now is the time to be registering voters, not scaring them. You often say that state law requires the purge of infrequent voters, when that is not in fact a part of Ohio’s voter roll maintenance law. It is a discretionary policy created by the secretary’s office by directive. You could and should rescind it, stick to the National Change of Address process, and remove only those people who have moved out of state. We need you to be an honest dealer. We can disagree on policy, but you do not get to have your own alternative facts.
You asked for and received approval from the Controlling Board on June 15, over two months ago, to spend the CARES Act money in Ohio on eligible election expenses. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission issued guidance that postage was an allowable expense under the federal Covid-19 relief law. But since that time, you have continued to say you need Controlling Board approval to pay return postage for applications and ballots. What more do you need? We are still waiting to see your spending plan for the CARES Act money and we urge you to prioritize paying return postage.
These are just a few red flags that have us concerned about this election. The challenges are not going away. We are not going to give up. We will continue to demand solutions and honest answers for our constituents. Where any obstacle pops up, we will come up with solutions and we need you to do the same. Our constituents do not want to hear you passing the buck, claiming your hands are tied. While your party’s super-majorities in the legislature are indeed having trouble getting along and getting much done, that’s just a convenient scapegoat. You already have the authority you need to make this election work. Follow Dr. Amy Acton’s “swiss cheese” approach to a crisis. That involves applying layer after layer of solutions until all of the holes are covered and we have the best election plan possible.
To that end, included with this letter is our checklist for what your office can and must do. It was compiled from the suggestions of experts, advocates, and our many concerned constituents. They have the right to vote safely and securely with a guarantee that their vote will count. We will keep checking back with you on this list. Thank you for your prompt attention to these matters.
Leader Emilia Strong Sykes
Assistant Minority Leader Kristin Boggs
Minority Whip Paula Hicks-Hudson
Assistant Minority Whip Richard Brown
Rep. Gil Blair
Rep. Janine Boyd
Rep. Juanita Brent
Rep. Jack Cera
Rep. Randi Clites
Rep. Erica Crawley
Rep. Jeff Crossman
Rep. Sedrick Denson
Rep. Tavia Galonski
Rep. Stephanie Howse
Rep. Catherine Ingram
Rep. Brigid Kelly
Rep. David Leland
Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan
Rep. Mary Lightbody
Rep. Beth Liston
Rep. Joe Miller
Rep. Jessica Miranda
Rep. Michael O’Brien
Rep. John Patterson
Rep. Phil Robinson
Rep. John Rogers
Rep. Allison Russo
Rep. Michael Sheehy
Rep. Michael Skindell
Rep. Kent Smith
Rep. Lisa Sobecki
Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney
Rep. Terrence Upchurch
Rep. Casey Weinstein
Rep. Thomas West
 ORC 3501.05 (B-C) “The secretary of state shall do all of the following: … (B) Issue instructions by directives and advisories in accordance with section 3501.053 of the Revised Code to members of the boards as to the proper methods of conducting elections. (C) Prepare rules and instructions for the conduct of elections”