CIRCLEVILLE — Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose visited the Pickaway County Board of Election’s office in Circleville Tuesday morning, taking questions and hearing the challenges that the local office is facing.
LaRose spoke to members of the board and board staff for about 45 minutes, and started off by acknowledging the task that the local board does.
“You do the tough day in and day out work that make elections happen and I’m here to learn from you all,” LaRose commented. “Around the table at 88 different county boards of elections is a lot of experience. I can do a better job, having learned from all of you. So far at each board I’ve learned something new that I haven’t before.”
Michele Lockard, executive director of the Pickaway County Board of Elections, said this is the first time she can remember in her 21 years that the Secretary of State has visited the office. LaRose took office in January.
“I think it’s good that he’s taking time on the ground level basis to find out what’s going on,” Lockard told The Circleville Herald. “I think the visit went really well.”
LaRose spoke about some of the ongoing projects his office has taken, but most of them are focused around the 2020 election cycle.
“It’s no secret that we’re going to have a busy election on our hands,” he said. “There are a lot of things put in place already by the leadership in the legislature. Ohio is getting new voting machines, as you all are aware. That’s something we shouldn’t take for granted — that $114.5 million that we invested in new voting equipment that’s the envy of the country.”
LaRose said that buy in from the Ohio State Legislature comes down to taking elections seriously.
“We take the integrity and security of our elections very seriously,” he continued. “The security is something a lot of people are not aware of. The fact that the voting machines are never connected to the Internet, not even capable of being connected is an important story to tell. The fact that the tabulating equipment is not connected to the internet and it would be a violation of federal law to connect it to the internet. These are things the average person doesn’t realize.
“All of these things that go into election security make it a lot harder for people to harbor these wild conspiracy theories that exist out there,” LaRose added. “The best antidote to the lies is simply the truth. Opening the doors to the board of elections and inviting our friends from the press to come in and see how well run they are, how organized they are and all the safeguards that are in place help Ohioans be confident that their vote counts accurately and their voice matters and can make a difference.”
LaRose said the “stakes are high” and there are “foreign adversaries” trying to tamper with elections.
“There are very well financed and dedicated adversaries that want to erode and undermine the trust people have in our elections and that’s their big picture objective,” he stated. “We’re not going to allow that to happen. I think that’s something we all share in a bi-partisan way.”
LaRose spoke about voter list maintenance, also known as purging, and why the state recently removed about 195,000 names from the rolls. He added, noting that most of the issues with those were bad addresses for people who had moved from the county or state. LaRose said this process is required every six years.
“This law has been in place since the 1990s, and it was in response to the federal voter registration act which required voters to maintain accurate voter rolls,” LaRose explained. “What that means is states have to find a mechanism for states to remove from their rolls those that are deceased, those that are duplicates, those that moved out of state or county and keep addresses up to date.”
He further stated that there is now a bill in progress to allow the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to serve as a place to verify voter registration to make the process much easier to verify, comparing it to what Best Buy does at their stores where they ask people to verify their address and email at check out but this time it would be through the DMV.
“I worked with a bi-partisan group of legislators that’s currently in the senate to modernize how we do voter registration to largely make that six year purge unneeded,” he said. “What I’ve proposed is that anytime someone comes into the BMV to get their drivers license renewed or to get a state ID, which is about 98 percent of us, we will take that opportunity to update their address and get them registered if they’re not and update their name.”
LaRose talked about the work that goes on in the board of elections offices, saying that he feels most people think they only work two days out of the year.
“We know that’s far from true,” he stated. “I joke that our election officials are figure skaters. When you watch the winter Olympics they make it look so easy because they are really good. That’s the mark of a true professional is they make it look effortless and that’s what our board of elections officials do day in and day out.”