COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — As the state gets ready for a primary election, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose sat down for an interview with NBC4’s Natalie Fahmy to talk about a range of subjects.
Abortion on the November ballot
This November, codifying abortion rights in Ohio could be on the ballot.
State officials recently approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would do that, but it is already being met with pushback from opponents, some who have even questioned if it’s legal.
LaRose described the process. The Ohio Ballot Board and Ohio Attorney General both have to decide if the proposed amendment language is fair and truthful, and whether it is only one amendment. In this case, both cleared it.
But the campaign against the proposal alleges it ties in other subjects– like gender-affirming surgery.
A lawsuit in Cincinnati has also tried to have it removed, saying it contains more than one amendment in the constitution.
“The ballot board didn’t get it wrong,” LaRose said. “Although I recognize there are a lot of emotions about this issue. Honestly, there’s a lot of emotions on all sides, and I’m somebody that is strongly pro-life, always have been. I don’t hide that — it’s who I am. And I recognize that the people that filed that lawsuit are strongly pro-life.”
But LaRose said the job of the ballot board has nothing to do with personal beliefs.
“The ballot board has a specific job to do,” LaRose said. “And that job is not just how we feel or what we want. It’s almost a quasi-judicial function, where we have to look at the language and decide in a very binary way, is it two issues or one issue?”
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s office declined to comment on pending litigation.
Bringing back August special elections for ‘certain purposes’
Just a few months after lawmakers at the Ohio Statehouse passed a bill to get rid of recurring August elections, they want to bring them back this year for Ohioans to vote on House Joint Resolution 1.
HJR1 is something LaRose stands behind, and he said has wanted to it get done since he was in the Ohio Senate six years ago.
“There are nearly 70,000 words in the [Ohio] Constitution,” he said. “Things that don’t belong in there, like casinos and specific plot numbers for where casinos go and any manner of other things that people have tried, and in some cases successfully been able to put, in the constitution.”
When the 2022 bill to get rid of recurring August elections was moving through the statehouse, LaRose submitted testimony, where he called them “unnecessary.”
“Simply put, an August special election is the last thing election officials should be dealing with as they ready themselves for an important November election that begins with the start of early voting in October,” LaRose wrote.
But less than a year later, LaRose said he would not be against bringing it back.
“To be clear, what they’re talking about is to hold a single special election for this purpose of passing a constitutional amendment. They’re not talking about reviving them as a normal ongoing year after year process,” LaRose said. “They’re two separate matters there.”
Bills in both the house and senate aim to bring back August elections for certain purposes, but lawmakers are against the clock to get one of them passed.
“I’ve told the General Assembly it would take us 100 days from when they pass a resolution or bill to run the election and we’d be ready 100 days later,” LaRose said. “We also need funding to do that, so the counties aren’t left baring that cost.”
LaRose sent letters to Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) and Speaker of the House Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill), laying out the preparation process for an August election, asking them to set the date no later than May 10.
He also writes in his letter that HJR6/SJR2 must pass the General Assembly by May 10 as well.
U.S. Senate run
It has been widely speculated that LaRose will eventually announce a run for U.S. Senate against incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown.
“No announcement today on that,” LaRose said. “It is something that I’m actively looking at, because I think that Sherrod Brown’s values don’t match Ohio.”
LaRose said if he did, he would announce some time in the summer. In the meantime, he has actively been raising money toward a super political action committee (PAC) to look into the possibility of a future run.
“It’s not a question of desire,” he said. “My heart’s in serving, and I’d love to do that. It’s a question of practicality, whether I can raise the money or not.”
Withdrawal from Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC)
Nearly two weeks ago, LaRose joined a handful of states in withdrawing from ERIC.
“It’s unfortunate that it came to this,” LaRose said.
ERIC enabled Ohio to compare its voter rolls with others states and refer people for prosecution if someone was found voting in Ohio and another state. While LaRose said ERIC had value, he said it also had flaws. The organization has existed for ten years, he said, and he thought it was time for a financial and data integrity audit.
“I don’t know why any organization would resist that. They’re relatively inexpensive to conduct, and would reassure not only the member states, but the taxpayers that we’re accountable to, that their money was being spent wisely,” he said.
He said he also believes ERIC was biased toward voter registration and away from election integrity, because ERIC required eligible voters be notified that they should register.
He argued the decision was not hasty, saying the states had been asking for reforms for more than a year. Eventually, he decided he did not want the organization telling him how he “can or can’t run our office in Ohio.”
“The more states that leave it, the less valuable it is — especially a state like Florida leaving ERIC was a big hit because it’s no secret there are Ohioans that spend part of the year in Florida,” he said. “The data exchange with Florida was very valuable.”
LaRose said now, they are looking to build a system to go in place of ERIC, adding Ohio is in conversation with about 20 other states about how to exchange data.
“My hope is that by next year’s election, we can at least have that data protocol in place — again, that’s my hope, I tend to move fast,” LaRose said. “But I would certainly think that we could put in place an agreement among states for a data sharing protocol.”
The system he would build with other states, he said, does not have to be as staff-heavy as ERIC is. Instead, he sees it as basic data science that something both his IT and other states’ IT teams can work out.