WASHINGTON, D.C. - Ohio expects turnout in the upcoming 2020 presidential election cycle may break records and is “fully focused on making sure Ohio is ready when the eyes of the world are on us, as we anticipate,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose told a U.S. Elections Assistance Summit on Tuesday.
To reduce problems like long wait times at polls that plagued past elections in the state, LaRose said the state will encourage voters to cast ballots early, use a mail-in option that’s become increasingly popular nationwide, and send an absentee ballot request to every registered voter in Ohio.
“We want to see people take advantage of that convenience,” said LaRose, adding that the mail-in ballots are tracked so voters can see when elections boards receive them.
To make voting by mail easier, LaRose said he’s proposed that the state government pay postage for mail-in ballots at a bulk rate, and allow absentee ballot requests to be filed online instead of being mailed.
LaRose said that every elections board in the state has a “wall of shame” where someone put 100 one cent stamps on their envelope and mailed it in. He said having the state pay postage would eliminate confusion about how many stamps voters should use.
He also said the state’s 28 days of early, in-person voting, which include weekend and evening hours, allow people to cast ballots who might have trouble making it to the polls on election day.
The Washington, D.C. conference LaRose addressed was conducted by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, an independent bipartisan organization established by the Help America Vote Act intended to help eligible Americans participate in the voting process.
The commission’s chair, Christy McCormick, said the group wants to ensure the 2020 elections are “secure and successful,” with a high public confidence in security and results. In addition to focusing on ways states like Ohio are preparing to deal with high voter turnout, the conference also discussed ways to ensure election security amid concerns about domestic and foreign interference.
Shelby Pierson, who leads election security efforts at the office of the Director of National Intelligence, said Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and “non-state hacktivists” all present potential threats to the upcoming election.
“This is a top national security priority in the midst of all the other challenges that we are facing at this time,” said Pierson.
LaRose said that newly approved Ohio legislation created several new efforts to ensure the state’s election security, including appointing a chief information security officer, who will be hired soon, and creating a civilian “cyber swat team” to serve as “a cavalry to call when there’s a cyber-attack.”
He said Ohio fought off an attack on election day last year that was focused on the part of the Secretary of State’s website that allowed voters to find their polling places on election day.
“You can imagine why that would have caused trouble if the bad guys had been able to knock that down,” he said, adding that the attack was traced to a server with an IP address in Panama that appeared to be linked to a Russian cryptocurrency company. He said he couldn’t say for sure that the cryptocurrency company, or Russia, was behind the attack because they could have been hacked, as well.
He said the state provided $114.5 million to purchase new “secure, state-of-the-art” voting equipment to ensure that every ballot in the state would have a paper backup that can be used for full post-election audits that every board of elections must conduct after each election.
LaRose said he’s also ordered each of Ohio’s 88 elections boards to complete a 34-point election security checklist that addresses hardware, software and the human aspects of security.
“When all 88 counties have completed that 34-point checklist at the end of January, I’ll be able to say that Ohio has the most aggressive election cybersecurity posture of any state the nation,” said LaRose.
LaRose, a Republican from Hudson, described administration of elections in Ohio as a “bipartisan enterprise.”
“At every county board of elections in Ohio, and most jurisdictions, Republicans and Democrats come to work, unlock the doors, turn on the lights and do this complex job of running elections,” said LaRose.
He said he has tried to work with organizations that have sued the state of Ohio over its method of eliminating inactive voters from the rolls to correct errors that would have led to the erroneous removal of 40,000 Ohioans. The state needs to keep accurate voting lists, and LaRose said the removal process is intended to weed out voters who have died or moved to other jurisdictions.
“I know that there’s a history of litigation, but we don’t have to solve all our problems at the courthouse,” said LaRose. “I care about voting rights, you care about voting rights. So before you sue me, call me.”