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LaRose Carries Out State and Federal Law; Adds Safeguards to Protect Voters

COLUMBUS - Today Secretary Frank LaRose issued Directive 2019-22, instructing county boards of elections on how to move forward with the voter list maintenance process pursuant to state and federal law, while providing certain exceptions and safeguards to ensure that no registrant is improperly denied the opportunity to vote.

“There has never been a more transparent, more intensive review of Ohio’s voting rolls than what we have undertaken,” said LaRose. “Because of our collaboration with outside organizations, the proper safeguards are in place to ensure any eligible voter will have the opportunity to have their voice heard.”

The voter list maintenance process is required by both state and federal law. As part of the supplemental and National Change of Address process, registrants who have been inactive for four years, or eight elections, since the receipt of a confirmation notice, must be removed from the voter rolls. The voter list maintenance effort currently being conducted is required because the previous administration issued confirmation notices in 2015. 

As a part of this current process, Secretary LaRose has implemented unprecedented levels of transparency to ensure every registrant has the opportunity to have their voice heard. His creation of the Registration Reset list was a new idea to provide an additional way to reach out via outside community partners to those registrations that receive last chance notices. The goal was two-fold: keep more voters on the rolls and to give these organizations an opportunity to scrutinize the list for accuracy. Partners since this process began in July have included the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the Urban League, labor unions, church organizations and the Ohio Republican Party.

The Registration Reset list has worked. Of the 234,879 registrations that received last chance notices, 12,496 voters had become active again as of noon on September 6, 2019. That’s a success rate of 5.3 percent. By comparison, under the previous administration’s efforts without the use of a Registration Reset list, of the 276,968 last chance notices sent, only 8,439 responded to become active again – a success rate of just 3.04 percent.

Additionally, it was understood well ahead of time that 88 county boards of elections pulling from 88 voter registration lists and utilizing four different vendors – human error was going to happen. With that in mind, it was not unexpected that over the course of this collaborative process, issues were going to be discovered that required deeper investigation. 

The Secretary has issued the results of that investigation and they can be found by clicking here.

In light of the findings of the investigation, Secretary LaRose’s new directive provides the following requirements that counties must consider before cancelling any registration:

  • The boards of elections are prohibited from cancelling any registration that appears on the board’s 2015 NCOA and Supplemental Processes list that appeared on the Secretary of State’s Statewide Voter Registration Database in “active” status.
  • The boards of elections are prohibited from cancelling any registration that is impacted by the voter registration vendor’s errors. 
  • The boards of elections are prohibited from cancelling any registration that was not placed in confirmation status in the county voter registration database in 2015 pursuant to the NCOA and Supplemental Processes.
  • The boards of elections are prohibited from cancelling any registration pursuant to the 2015 NCOA and Supplemental Processes if a board of elections is missing voter history in their county voter registration database from any election between May 7, 2013 through May 7, 2019. 

County Boards of Elections will utilize these safeguards to carry out legally required list maintenance. Boards then have until Friday, September 13, 2019 to submit the final list of cancelled registrations to the Secretary of State’s office.

Additionally, per a settlement with APRI, an exception will continue that allows any person whose registration was cancelled pursuant to the Supplemental Process and who continues to reside in the same county in which their registration was cancelled to cast a provisional ballot. If that provisional ballot complies with all the requirements to cast and count a provisional ballot, then any such vote will be counted and result in the person’s registration being restored. More information can be found by clicking here.

NEW LEGISLATION TO ENSURE MORE SECURE, BETTER VENDOR SERVICE

Secretary LaRose also has proposed new legislation, introduced today in the Ohio Senate, that will place voter registration database systems under the purview of a re-named Board of Voting System Examiners (BVSE).

By requiring vendors to meet required standards, Ohio will greatly reduce a significant vulnerability. Enhanced cyber-security protections and oversight will mitigate the risk that foreign actors can manipulate our voter registration systems and deliver more accurate and efficient data to Ohio’s 88 county boards of elections. A Board of Voting System Examiners will allow for a stronger, more accurate, and more secure voter registration system.

A fact sheet on the new legislation can be found by clicking here.

MODERNIZING VOTER REGISTRATION WILL CREATE MORE ACCURATE VOTER ROLLS

Secretary LaRose has called on Ohio to embrace a modernized system that will make our voter rolls more accurate and secure. Instead of relying on voters to remember to update their information at their local board of elections or on the Secretary of State website, it would require state government to automate this process. A system that allows Ohioans to seamlessly update their registration information when they interact with state government will significantly improve the accuracy of Ohio’s voter rolls.

EXAMPLE: Presently, eligible voters are asked if they want to fill out a paper registration form when they visit their local BMV – oftentimes leading to improperly filled out forms or data-entry errors. With Voter Verification and Registration (VVR), the voter’s information will already be filled in and presented on a screen — making it easy to choose to register to vote or update the registration. 

Click here for more information on VVR. 

ENDORSEMENTS FROM PARTNERS UTILIZING THE REGISTRATION RESET LIST:

Secretary LaRose has gone above and beyond any effort we’ve seen from someone in his position. We’re working hard to utilize the Registration Reset list to reach Ohioans who may be interested in continuing as active voters. Many of us understand that the Secretary of State is following the law. He has empowered us with access to the list so that we can knock on the doors ourselves.”

- Pastor John T. Coats, President, Interdenominational
Ministerial Alliance of Columbus and Vicinity

The Registration Reset initiative was a smart idea and a resource we’ve never really had before. We certainly appreciate Secretary LaRose giving us this opportunity to find inactive registrations that may be at-risk of cancellation.”
- Councilwoman Yvonne Harper, City of Toledo

It’s great to see someone in Secretary LaRose’s position trying to find creative ways to reach voters. We’ve utilized the list and while we haven’t had much success in finding active voters, we certainly appreciate the opportunity to be a part of this important process.”

- CEO Marsha Mockabee, Urban League of Greater Cleveland

“Secretary LaRose has his arms tied because he needs to follow the law to remove inactive registrations. He came to us and asked for our help in reaching out to these inactive registrations, and we certainly appreciate everything he has done. We have partnered with the Ohio Secretary of State to make a difference in our communities across the state. A ‘Vote less People is a Hopeless People’.

- Terence A. Gragston, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity
Incorporated Delta Gamma Lambda Chapter, Cincinnati;
Vote Less People is a Hopeless People Chairman

"Secretary LaRose is building a strong partner within our community. This idea of the Registration Reset list has given us a unique opportunity to reach people who may have given up on voting or moved around in our community. It will be a huge help, though by law he has limited time to do this, yet it says a lot about the Secretary’s commitment to re-engaging the voters."

- Pastor Larry Macon, Senior President,
United Pastors in Mission of Greater Cleveland

WHY DID THIS VOTER LIST MAINTENANCE PROCESS NEED TO TAKE PLACE?

It’s important to understand that once a confirmation notice has been sent, law explicitly requires the cancellation of an inactive registration if it has not had voter activity over the next four years. So in this case, in June 2015, the previous administration issued Directive 2015-09, ordering local boards of elections to mail notices to electors who have been inactive for two years in order to confirm their status as a registered voter. This action started the four-year clock for the cancellation of their registration, pending voter activity. 

To be clear, if we did not issue our directive in June of this year, and if inactive registrations don’t respond and their registrations aren’t cancelled, we would be explicitly breaking the law.

WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY?

http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/3503.21

(A) The registration of a registered elector shall be canceled upon the occurrence of any of the following:

  • (7) The failure of the registered elector, after having been mailed a confirmation notice, to do either of the following:
  • (a) Respond to such a notice and vote at least once during a period of four consecutive years, which period shall include two general federal elections;
  • (b) Update the elector's registration and vote at least once during a period of four consecutive years, which period shall include two general federal elections.

 

PARTISANS HAVE ATTEMPTED TO USE SECRETARY LAROSE’S TRANSPARENCY FOR THEIR OWN POLITICAL GAIN, SCARING VOTERS

Despite Secretary LaRose’s unprecedented levels of transparency and collaboration, certain partisans have attempted to utilize the opportunity for their own political gain. But much worse, they have used fear tactics to scare voters which can have a chilling effect on some voters’ faith in our democratic process.

In response to a lawsuit by these partisans, Judge James Graham, United States District Judge, said the following in the September 4, 2019 opinion of Ohio Democratic Party vs. LaRose. Read the full opinion by clicking here.

  • The Court finds that the ODP has not, at this early stage, demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the merits. The OPD’s case rests on the factual assertion that there are up to 30,000 voters whose names are on the Registration Reset List in error. The ODP has not submitted any evidence in support of this assertion. Rather, it relies on the reports of other organizations that they have found errors on the List.
  • The Secretary has shown … that he restored those registrants who were eligible to vote to the Voter File. In other words, the Secretary has acted to ensure eligible voters are not removed from the File when he has discovered errors on the List. Even if the outside reports of inaccuracies are true, the ODP has not established a strong likelihood of success in proving that the Secretary’s system is so fundamentally unfair as to constitute a Due Process violation. Federal law places an affirmative duty on the Secretary to make “a reasonable effort to remove registrants who are ineligible to vote.” 52 U.S.C. § 21083(a)(4)(A). Indeed, registrants who “have not responded to a notice and who have not voted in 2 consecutive general elections for Federal office shall be removed from the official list of eligible voters, except that no registrant may be removed solely by reason of a failure to vote.” Id. at § 21083(a)(4)(A)
  • To the Court’s knowledge there is no requirement that the Secretary make public the list of those who would be removed from the voter registration rolls, but he did so. And the Secretary provided transparency to the point of inviting interested organizations to review the Registration Reset List and provide feedback. This effort, it would seem, would serve to reduce inaccuracies on the List. There is no evidence demonstrating that the Secretary is recalcitrant in fixing errors when his own staff can verify them. As noted above, the Secretary has on two occasions this year restored eligible voters to the Voter File.
  • The Court further finds that the ODP has not met its burden of showing irreparable injury absent an injunction. Without question, denial of the fundamental right to vote “constitutes irreparable injury.” Obama for Am. v. Husted, 697 F.3d 423, 436 (6th Cir. 2012). The evidence, however, establishes that the Secretary has implemented numerous safeguards to enable eligible voters to vote.
  • ODP has not demonstrated irreparable injury in the absence of a TRO. The Court further finds that the public has a substantial interest in the maintenance of accurate and up-to-date voter registration records. Indeed, the State has an obligation to keep the records “accurate” and “updated regularly.” 52 U.S.C. § 21083(a)(4). The Secretary has been transparent in releasing the Registration Reset List to the public and inviting feedback. Court intervention to disrupt and delay this process would not serve the public interest.

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Maggie Sheehan
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