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Frank LaRose defends voter purge

Secretary of state says Ohio prepared for 2020 election

WARREN — With the 2020 presidential election closing in, Secretary of State Frank LaRose said Ohio is prepared.

“When the eyes of the world are on Ohio next year, we’ll be ready,” he said Monday in Warren.

LaRose, a Republican, issued a directive earlier this year that required increased security upgrades at boards of elections in the state’s 88 counties. That included installing intrusion detection devices, having a criminal background check of permanent board of elections employees and vendors or contractors that perform sensitive services for the board, and annual training on cyber security and physical security.

It’s to make sure “we’re prepared for the very real threat that exists as it relates to cyber crimes and even foreign actors that engage in these type of things,” he said.

“There have been attempts, but there has not been a successful breach as it relates to elections infrastructure in Ohio,” LaRose said.

But the state has to be “constantly vigilant,” he said.

“The bad guys have to be right only once,” LaRose added. “We have to be right every day. We have to keep our guard up.”

LaRose also backs a bill approved earlier this month by the state Senate — sponsored by Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem — that would put voter registration database systems under the direction of a renamed Board of Voting System Examiners.

“There needs to be standards in place” for voter registration systems, LaRose said.

The current Board of Voting Machine Examiners ensures voting systems meet certain security and accessibility standards. The bill, if approved by the Ohio House, would rename the board and give it control over registration database systems.

When asked about the voter purge earlier this year, LaRose said: “I don’t like the word. It’s a really scary-sounding word that as you know has a very negative connotation to it.”

By state and federal law, LaRose said he has the responsibility to remove those who didn’t vote for six straight years from the registration list.

LaRose said of the 234,879 on the original list, about 6,800 voters were removed by error caused by mistakes made by companies that keep voter registration information for county boards of elections or the boards themselves.

“We caught those and fixed them before the removals were processed,” he said.

Also, because of letters sent to the others on the list and additional outreach efforts, about 33,000 other people said they wanted to remain registered and were “saved,” LaRose said.

That resulted in the canceled registrations of 194,207.

“We’re not talking about removing voters,” LaRose said. “We’re talking about removing bad data that doesn’t correspond to voters — it’s out of state (residents) or a duplicate” or people who died.

Accurate voting records are needed, he said, for the allocation of voting machines, pollworkers, how big polling locations are and how many ballots are printed, as well as to reduce election fraud.

LaRose said claims he almost canceled more than 40,000 registrations are incorrect.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper on Monday called it an “error-riddled voter purge” that “very nearly removed tens of thousands of eligible voters from the rolls.”

Pepper added: “The entire experience shows that the process is antiquated and full of errors and needs to be ended as soon as possible and replaced with best practices across the country, starting with automatic voter registration.”

Turnout in Ohio for the Nov. 5 election was 27.12 percent — it will go up slightly when the results are certified shortly. That’s slightly better than the 26.97 percent in 2013, the last time there was an odd-year election without a state ballot initiative.

“Our efforts to get people engaged maybe made a difference there,” LaRose said.

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