Ohio SoS Race – Partisan Differences, But Shared Commitment to Fair Elections

[Images 1 2 via cleveland.com]

One of the nation’s highest-profile state election jobs is up for grabs in Ohio, where incumbent Jon Husted is term-limited and is a candidate for Lt. Governor. Running to replace him are two state legislators with a record of interest in election issues: Kathleen Clyde (D) and Frank LaRose (R). The Columbus Dispatch recently sat down with each of them for interviews – revealing a race where the two candidates agree on a lot but disagree on some very big things:

The two major party candidates running for Ohio secretary of state agree on many voter-related issues, and both say the state’s chief elections officer needs to rise above partisan debate and help restore civility in politics. 

Democratic state Rep. Kathleen Clyde of Kent and Republican state Sen. Frank LaRose of Hudson concur that gerrymandering of legislative boundaries, lack of transparency in how campaigns are financed, and hyper partisanship have all undermined voters’ faith in the democratic process. 

Both say the secretary of state’s job is to avoid the political sniping and ensure elections are fair for all voters. 

But they disagree about what’s the problem. Republicans like to complain about voter fraud and Democrats allege voter suppression. 

Clyde says Republicans who control the legislature have enacted many restrictions on voting that have limited participation, policies she’d like reversed. 

“Our 30-day (deadline before an election) is the longest cut-off period that you are allowed under federal law,” Clyde said of Ohio’s voter registration deadline during an editorial meeting with The Columbus Dispatch. 

“We don’t need 30 days to verify voters’ eligibility.” 

The four-term representative is pushing to significantly expand voter participation by implementing a statewide automated system of voter registration, of which voters could opt out. Eligible voters who may be missed could register at the polls on Election Day, essentially eliminating registration deadlines. 

“It has unfortunately become a partisan Democrats-verses-Republicans battle on voting issues. Out in my district … they think this stuff is crazy,” she said. “People want people to vote.” 

During a separate editorial meeting, LaRose said the blame is shared. 

“You get this tendency on the right to overstate the existence of voter fraud because it excites the base, and subsequently you have this tendency on the left to overstate the existence of voter suppression because it excites the base. Both are hyperbole, neither one is widespread,” said the two-term senator. 

“Both are very serious when they do occur and so we need to be serious about how we approach either one of them. But to overstate them and say that both are widespread, erodes the trust that people have in the process and makes them less likely to participate.” 

Both Clyde and LaRose are making their first bid for statewide office Nov. 6, vying to replace Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, who is legally barred from seeking a third consecutive term and running for lieutenant governor on Mike DeWine’s ticket. 

Pledging to “turn down divisive rhetoric” and to “reach across the aisle,” LaRose, 39, said he supports early voting to make it more convenient, notably continuation of “Souls to the Polls” voting the Sundays before the election that is popular with urban churches. He said he also wants to allow online requests of absentee ballot forms, update the state’s campaign finance records system, and expand civics education. 

In addition, he is pushing for passage of his bill, approved by the Senate and waiting for a vote by the House, to require candidates for local offices to file electronic campaign finance reports to allow more transparency for the public. 

LaRose spent 10 years in the U.S. Army, first in the 101st Airborne Division and later as a Green Beret in the U.S. Special Forces. He said his generation’s challenge “will be to make our civics work again, to make our government work again, to get away from the real pervasive tribalism that exists in our form of politics right now.” 

He supports many policies but not the conduct of President Donald Trump, saying that “following his presidency there will be some work to do to bring things back to a more civil conversation.” 

Clyde, also 39, is a lawyer who formerly served as deputy legal counsel the House speaker. If elected secretary of state, she pledged to “be the type of leader to reach across the aisle and work to bring people together.” 

“I’m hoping we can see an end to these partisan battles over right to vote,” Clyde said. 

Her proposal for automatic voter registration, she said, would register hundreds of thousands more voters. She said voters should be purged from Ohio rolls only when they die, move from the state or become incarcerated. 

In addition to expanding voter access, Clyde said she will ensure fair and secure elections, proposing to allow only “voter-marked, voter-verified, paper ballot system” rather than electronic touch-screens now used by many counties, including Franklin.

Ohio has long been a state to watch in the election community, both for its impact on election policy but also for high-profile litigation – and yes, partisanship – that often drives the national conversation. It’s encouraging to see both candidates making a commitment to a healthy, fair and secure voting process; here’s hoping that shared commitment survives the heat of a statewide campaign in the Buckeye State. Stay tuned …

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