LIMA — With half a year left until the 2020 general election this November, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose is pushing for some changes soon to ensure that the state’s next election isn’t a repeat of the less-than-optimal spring primary that attracted less than a fourth of registered voters.
“Clearly, nobody envisioned the Ohio primary occurring this way. There were many parts about this that were not ideal, obviously, in emergency situations,” LaRose said Tuesday. “Sometimes, leaders are faced with choices between bad and worse, right? And so, in many ways, those were some of the difficult choices that we had.”
LaRose is recommending a four-part policy change pushed forward by Ohio’s General Assembly to provide the necessary fixes. They include making absentee ballot requests available online, sending out ballot request forms to all Ohioans with a pre-paid envelope, switching the cut-off date for absentee ballots and giving additional flexibility and funds to local county boards of elections.
The set of recommendations should be able to adapted easily to Ohio’s current election policy without changing it so much that voters won’t know what to expect come November, LaRose said. More extensive changes that some Democratic lawmakers have called for — such as pushing forward the voter registration deadline close to Election Day — may be too much too quickly.
“The reason why I’m not proposing those kind of changes, candidly, is because six months before — I’ve got a countdown clock behind me — the early voting starts in 146 days. Making changes like that, that are vastly different from what Ohioans have encountered in the past, can lead to confusion, not only for the boards, but for voters as well,” LaRose said.
Providing additional funds to local county boards can also help provide unique solutions to whatever coronavirus restrictions may be in place by November. For example, a local county board of election may be able to decide to consolidate multiple small polling places without much room for social distancing into a larger space, such as an empty big box store.
“In some cases, those counties need to buy an extra scanner. Some cases, those counties may need to buy a simple $1,000 machine that cuts open envelopes, so that they can deal with the much higher volume of vote by mail they’re going to see this November,” LaRose said. “That funding can also be used, the federal funding, as long as the legislature authorizes me to spend it, it can be used to supplement their staff and bring in more people.”
Either way, Ohio’s General Assembly will need to decide what is best for the state soon. LaRose said in order to ensure county boards have enough time to purchase new equipment or make large-scale changes, lawmakers will have to pass a bill sometime in the first half of summer.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.