Ohio's Republican secretary of state tried to purge tens of thousands of eligible voters


When voting rights groups got access to Ohio's list of people it intended to remove from voter rolls, they found nearly 1 in 5 people were on the list improperly.

The state of Ohio was all ready to throw 235,000 voters off its rolls. Turns out that about 40,000 of those people shouldn't be removed.

Ohio is very invested in voter suppression. They have strict voter ID laws and their rules on purging — when a voter can be removed from the voting rolls — are very aggressive, resulting in hundreds of thousands of voters being removed yearly.

This September, the state, under the direction of Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, was poised to remove 235,000 people. However, after the public was allowed access to the list of proposed removals, they determined that tens of thousands of those entries were wrong and those voters were still eligible to stay on the rolls.

Removing voters isn't inherently wrong. For example, people move or pass away, and there has to be a mechanism to get them off the voting rolls. However, that only works if the mechanism for removal is fair and is easy to track.

Neither of those things is true with Ohio. Ohio is one of the most aggressive states about removing voters, employing a "use it or lose it" method that was upheld by the Supreme Court last year. If you don't vote in a two-year span, Ohio assumes you moved out of your district and aren't eligible to vote. If you don't respond to the postcard, the state sends you or vote in the next four years, the state purges you. Basically, if you miss a piece of mail and sit out one election, you're off the rolls in Ohio.

Additionally, Ohio can't seem to keep track of exactly how many people it throws off the voting rolls. In 2016, the then-Secretary of State Jon Husted, also a Republican, defended Ohio's move to purge voters but struggled to explain how many people were actually purged and why the methods for doing so seemed to differ from county to county.

Rather than fix these things, Ohio has just kept on purging. LaRose came up with a solution of sorts: release a spreadsheet of all 235,000 names to advocacy groups and make them do the work of figuring out if people on the list were eligible to register again. Jen Miller, the head of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, found her own name on the list, flagged as inactive. That's even though she had voted in three different elections in the previous year.

Once Miller and other voting rights groups began sleuthing, they found that around 40,000 names — close to 20% — on the list were wrongly included and those voters weren't inactive at all.

Somehow, LaRose seems to see this as a victory, talking up how he fixed the list via "crowdsourcing." But it's hardly a victory that private advocacy groups had to do LaRose's work for him. The citizens of Ohio shouldn't be reliant upon nonprofits to do the core work of the Secretary of State's office, conducting and protecting elections.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.