COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) – More than 7,000 people in Ohio had filled out online voter registrations by noon Tuesday, according to staff at the Secretary of State’s office.
At one point, it was reported that 700 people were on the Secretary of State’s website at the same time, which is an unusually high amount of traffic according to Frank LaRose, Ohio’s current Secretary of State.
LaRose is a self-proclaimed election nerd — he loves elections and his passion for everything about them shows in how he talks about the subject, and his desires to make it easier for people to vote and have their voice counted.
Still, nine months into the job, LaRose faces criticism over following through with the legally mandated voter registration maintenance the state has been doing for decades (by officeholders from both major parties).
The criticism stems from the removal of inactive voters from the registration rolls.
Previous maintenance removed people who died or moved out of state, and the addition of inactive voters is something that started during Lt. Governor Jon Husted’s time as Ohio’s Secretary of State.
Husted’s office followed through with several of these kinds of purges during his stint as Secretary of State.
Tuesday, LaRose talked about the measures he has taken to make sure the maintenance scheduled for Sept. 6 was as transparent as possible. He also admitted that has resulted in revealing a number of errors with the process.
“The deeper we’ve dug on the voter registration process, candidly, the more problems we’ve found in the way that it’s done,” LaRose said.
Thousands of people were removed from the voter rolls incorrectly during the Sept. 6 maintenance that had to have their registrations restored. Many of these individuals had moved from one residence in their county to another and had not updated their voter registration.
“It’s entirely possible that the same problems that we’ve found have occurred in the past and have gone unnoticed,” LaRose said.
The point of maintaining the registration rolls is to make sure those who are ineligible to vote are not on them.
Unmaintained rolls provide an opportunity, however small, for fraud to occur.
Most voting rights advocates agree with removing the dead and those who have moved out of their jurisdiction from the voter rolls. Opposition is over removing people who have not moved from their home and simply have decided not to be an active voter.
The addition of removing inactive voters has clearly complicated an already complex system that LaRose says appears to have been tacked together to begin with.
The official number of errors in this most recent maintenance has not been released as there are still a few counties trying to resolve issues.
When asked if the number was significant, LaRose wouldn’t commit to the label outside of saying this: “One voter constitutes a significant number in my mind, right? If it’s your vote or if it’s my vote or if it’s yours, and so we’ve got to get this right all the time and that’s why we’re doing it the way we’re doing it.”
If anything, this process has given LaRose all the ammunition he needs to go to the legislature to ask for changes.
”The Ohio voter registration system is pretty antiquated and needs to be modernized,” he said.
He wants to see registrations updated every time a citizen interacts with state government (eg. pays their taxes, visits the BMV, buys a fishing license, etc.) and he wants to see more interconnectivity to accomplish that.
He also would like to do something about the decentralization of the voter registration information as a whole. Currently, each individual county board of elections holds the official lists of registered voters, while the Secretary of State also has a list with incomplete information.
He also is calling for a change to the oversight group that ensures secure voting machines for the state to also have voter registration be something they watch as well.
There are currently four different vendors used in voter registration and maintenance, and LaRose has concerns about the security of those vendors.
Although they’re background checked, the safeguards they put in place may not be nearly as strong as those mandated for county boards of elections.
While all of the actual voting, tabulating and reporting of results is conducted in a way that keeps machines away from and incapable of connecting to the internet, to avoid being compromised, these vendors are susceptible to a variety of issues.
Finally, LaRose wants eligible voters to be able to exercise a decision to do so if they want, but they won’t be able to if they are not registered.
“If you can’t remember the last time you voted, if you’re not sure you’re registered to vote, go on voteohio.gov and fill it out,” LaRose said. “We’re gonna make sure that you’re accurately registered to vote and that you shouldn’t have to worry about that.”
In order to be eligible to vote in this year’s General Election in November, you must be registered to vote by Oct. 7.