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Voting Rights Advocates Applaud Ohio Efforts To Increase Election Security

Secretary of State Frank LaRose (right) flanked by Franklin County Board of Elections Director Edward Leonard.
Nick Evans
Secretary of State Frank LaRose (right) flanked by Franklin County Board of Elections Director Edward Leonard.

The country is less than a year away from the 2020 presidential election, and concerns about Russian interference in the 2016 election persists. Have Ohio and other states done everything they need to ensure that the vote next time will be safe and secure?

Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, says the state is in pretty good shape, but there’s still work to be done.

Miller says that Ohio’s security is “well ahead of other states.” Ohio’s voting machines are not hooked up to the internet, so they can’t be hacked.

But Miller advises it’s important to be ready for what comes next. She points to Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who worked with the Ohio Senate to craft SB 52, which Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law.

According to Miller, the law gives the Secretary of State a seat on the Homeland Security Council.

"Clearly, elections are critical infrastructure," she said.

The law also creates a cyber-information officer seat within the Secretary of State’s Office, and it would codify postelection audits. On that last point, Miller says that’s something the League of Women Voters secured from a lawsuit following the 2004 election.

Finally, SB 52 creates a cyber-reserve of academic and corporate experts that the state can draw on in times when the Secretary of State, county board of elections or local officials need help.

The legislation ensures continuity from one secretary of state to the next.

Certifying Voter Registration Systems

There’s another bill that Miller says the League of Women Voters is very excited about: SB 194, which has passed the Ohio Senate.

According to Miller, the bill requires voter registration systems to be certified. Currently, voting machines are certified, meaning that counties can only select from certified vendors, and cybersecurity is taken into consideration. Under the bill, voter registration systems would face the same rigors.

Miller calls the bill “a common sense next step” and is hopeful it will soon pass the House.

Every county in Ohio has its own board of elections. Miller says that makes sense, because local decisions are better made at this level.

But it also means that Ohio’s voter registration system is decentralized, with every county having its own system and processes for registering voters, which Miller believes is problematic. Miller says the oversight of voting should be kept at the county level, but registration should be centralized because it would be more accurate and more secure.

Miller is also a proponent of automatic voter registration.

“When you interact with a government agency, it would automatically update your address,” she said.

SB 186 would require that when you get a new license or ID at the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, you would automatically be registered to vote. If you’re already registered, your information would be updated. 

“That would make our rolls more secure and more accurate and, at the same time, easier to vote,” she said.

In general, Miller says that LaRose is a good partner in making voting easier. She points to his military service and calls him a "patriot,” saying that he cares about everyone voting.

Although Miller is not aware of any suppression effort at the state level, she said state policies do disproportionately affect “students, communities of color and low-income individuals, and that’s where we can improve security, while at the same time, improve access with things like automatic voter registration or same-day registration.”

Andrew joined WKSU News in 2014. He oversees the daily operations of the WKSU news department and its reporters and hosts, coordinates daily coverage, and serves as editor. His commitment is to help foster reporting that marks the best of what public radio has to offer: a mix of first-rate journalism with great storytelling. His responsibilities also include long-term strategic planning for news coverage in Northeast Ohio that serves WKSU’s audience via on-air, online, by social media and through emerging technologies. You can also hear Andrew on-air daily as the local host for Here and Now, Fresh Air, and The World.
Joseph Ciccolini is an intern at WKSU for Fall 2019. He is set to graduate in December, 2019 with a degree in broadcast journalism. After graduation he wants to pursue a career in sports radio. He is passionate about the Cleveland Cavaliers, Browns and Indians. In his free time he likes to watch sporting events and movies, with Star Wars being his favorite.