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Election shows room for upgrades

Secretary of State Frank LaRose should be complimented for a smooth presidential election in Ohio during very difficult conditions because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But there’s always room for improvement that will hopefully occur. LaRose is unlikely to get support from fellow Republicans in the state Legislature for needed changes and will probably have to take some of the steps on his own.

Despite unsubstantiated claims from Donald Trump, his legal team of rejects from the Island of Misfit Toys and a number of the outgoing president’s supporters about the legitimacy of voting in states where Trump lost, LaRose said this was “the most honest election and most accurate election that we could ever have.”

LaRose also was among the first and few Republicans to challenge Trump to “present your evidence” of supposed election fraud.

He deserves credit for election preparedness, particularly after the delayed primary election debacle.

LaRose’s office had plans for poll worker recruitment, combating disinformation, encouraging early voting and making sure people were safe when voting in person.

While LaRose wants more people to vote by mail and required drop boxes outside boards of elections in every county, he refused to expand the boxes to other locations even though a state appeals court gave him that authority.

LaRose said he had concerns about putting the boxes elsewhere.

One was a drop box could be set on fire. I responded that the same could happen to a mailbox, and LaRose acknowledged that was accurate.

Another was voter confusion. An example was putting boxes at libraries and voters instead placing their ballots in a book return box, which he said would cause those votes to not be counted.

However, an order from LaRose that voter drop boxes be clearly marked would resolve that issue. Outside the Mahoning County Board of Elections is a drop box for ballots and another for information about veterans services. Both are marked.

Joyce Kale-Pesta, the Mahoning County elections board director, wanted to put drop boxes outside police stations that would have been lit and monitored by security cameras. Trumbull County election officials had no plans to add drop boxes if permitted.

There are a number of states, including red ones, that have multiple drop boxes and government websites that list their locations. In Wisconsin, for example, voters were permitted to put ballots in some public utility bill boxes and mail slots at city halls.

Putting boxes that aren’t secure or all over the place would be reckless, but few were suggesting that.

LaRose said he received pushback from some on requiring each county board to have a box. As the top elections official in the state, it’s LaRose’s duty to make voting as safe and accessible as possible.

LaRose wanted the legislature to pass a law giving him the ability to expand the number of drop boxes, but it’s doubtful legislators will approve such a bill.

LaRose’s argument for not increasing drop boxes in this election, despite being allowed to, was “those changes shouldn’t be made days before early voting. That’s disruptive and creates chaos.”

LaRose “argued against his own ability to increase drop boxes even though he said he supported it,” said David Pepper, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, one of the litigants in the lawsuits.

The reason the election ran well, Pepper said, is because “so many people voted early. LaRose said he encourages that, but decisions he makes don’t support that. It isn’t consistent to praise the smooth election and try to stop it in ways.”

LaRose said he also supports the legislature passing a bill to permit voters to request absentee ballots online instead of having to do it by mail, which slows down the process. While LaRose is hopeful that gets done before the year ends, he said he made a similar proposal five years ago as a legislator and it wasn’t approved.

Pepper said, “This is a legislature that doesn’t believe in masks. They’re not going to do anything to bring the election into the 21st century.”

The legislature refused LaRose’s request to spend about $3 million from his own budget to cover postage for those voting by mail during the pandemic.

Regarding online absentee ballot requests, Pepper said LaRose has the authority to do it without approval from the General Assembly.

“This is not hard stuff,” Pepper said. “It’s done everywhere. He can do it and it’s mind boggling that he won’t.”

LaRose ran a very good presidential election during what was likely the most challenging of circumstances. With a few changes, future elections will be even better.

Skolnick covers politics for the Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator.

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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