COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A couple hours before his rally at the Delaware County Fairgrounds last Saturday, former President Donald Trump endorsed Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.
“Frank is dedicated to Secure Elections—the most important work he can do—with every legal vote counted, no ballot harvesting, and all votes counted on Election Day,” he wrote in a statement.
But when Trump took the stage that evening, in front of an audience that included LaRose, he espoused voting policy wishes and pushed claims of widespread fraud that do not sound like those championed by LaRose, a purple-state Republican whose go-to is that Ohio makes it “easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
An election contradiction
Trump noted LaRose’s slogan in his endorsement, but throughout his Delaware speech the former president advocated for a nationwide cutback on voting access that greatly contrasts with how Ohio conducts elections.
Trump told rallygoers he wants only “one-day voting,” but Ohio has 22 days of early voting leading up to the May 3 primary election. Trump wants mail-in ballots only for “distant military or people who are very, very sick,” but Ohio allows everybody to request them.
And Trump added “we must have universal voter ID” and “no more drop boxes.” Ohio allows voters to prove their identity with at least six documents, and every county has one drop box for people to place their absentee ballots.
“I think that the kinds of voting processes that Trump is advocating for are unduly restrictive,” said professor Steven Huefner, deputy director of election law at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law. “And the processes that we have in Ohio today, as a general matter, are quite solid, quite secure.”
“Ohio had what can only be called the most successful election in our state’s history,” LaRose told NBC4’s Colleen Marshall in an interview about a month ago, citing a record number of ballots cast, record absentee votes and record early votes.
His spokesperson did not fulfill a request for comment on this story.
LaRose’s office has also been publishing weekly data on early and absentee voting ahead of Tuesday’s primary. “Absentee voting in Ohio is time-tested and has strong security checks in place,” read this week’s update, in part.
The policies Trump wants, however, would dramatically change voting in Ohio, Huefner said, calling them “solutions to a nonexistent problem.”
Voting under LaRose has been “quite accessible,” he said, but “the kinds of things that Trump is advocating for are, in fact, a step or multiple steps backward for no basis.”
“Rather than do his job and stand up for election integrity,” Ohio Democratic Party spokesperson Matt Keyes said, in part, in a statement this week, “… LaRose is busy falling in line behind Republican politicians who lie about elections being stolen and attack Ohioans’ right to vote.”
LaRose’s opponent more aligned with Trump
Trump’s preferred voting policies are much more in line with those of John Adams, LaRose’s opponent on Tuesday and the first person to challenge an Ohio Secretary of State incumbent in a primary in 74 years.
Adams told NBC4 in April that he would “tighten our election laws” by eliminating early voting, restricting absentee ballot excuses to military and illness, removing drop boxes and requiring a specific voter ID. Trump called for all of those things at his Ohio rally.
Adams also said he believes “the election was stolen” from Trump in 2020, which the former president claimed multiple times in his speech. The two Republicans even promoted the same documentary by a group called True the Vote that unsuccessfully claims cellphone tracking data shows a ring of people illegally dropping off mail-in ballots in five key states Joe Biden won.
“[LaRose] would have to adopt virtually everything in my campaign platform to satisfy that endorsement,” Adams told NBC4 after watching Trump’s rally.
“Trump could certainly have found himself wanting to endorse LaRose’s opponent in the primary,” Huefner said, noting “there are lots of things about Ohio elections that don’t really line up” with the former president’s rhetoric.
So, if Trump and LaRose say different things about election processes, why did he endorse him?
“I think it may be,” Huefner said, “that LaRose is still the clear favorite on the Republican side, and Trump likes to associate himself with winners.”
Keyes, from the Ohio Democratic Party, claimed LaRose is playing politics and angling for higher office: “Ohioans can’t trust Frank LaRose to care about anything but himself and a Senate race he’ll lose in two years.”
Huefner also noted that if LaRose or any Ohio Secretary of State wanted to overhaul how elections are run, he or she would not be able to go far. Most election rules are set by the state legislature, he said, although “the Secretary of State has room to make discretionary judgments about a number of things.”
“Most of the things that Trump’s been advocating for are things that would be for the legislature to then implement in the first instance,” Huefner said.
Why does Trump want an election overhaul?
At the heart of Trump’s wish to pull back voter access is his false belief that it breeds widespread fraud.
Throughout his Saturday speech in Delaware County, Trump connected his proposed voting policies with his continued assertion that he won the 2020 election. He called what voting experts have said was a historically secure contest “rigged and stolen,” “fake” and “phony.”
“He’s advocating for those restrictions on the voting process on the basis of a lie,” Huefner said. “And I think it’s fair to call it that because there is no reason to think that the 2020 election was influenced by widespread voting fraud or irregularities.”
The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, for example, said after the election, “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” And the Trump campaign and its allies lost more than 60 lawsuits contesting election processes, especially in states Biden narrowly won.
2020 wasn’t a fluke either. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, tracks election fraud in every state but has found only 1,353 “proven instances” since 2000 out of hundreds of millions of votes cast. LaRose’s office found just 27 Ohio ballots that were potentially cast illegally in the 2020 general election, which comes out to 0.0005% of nearly 6 million cast statewide.
“You can find isolated problems” in every election, Huefner said, “and we ought to do all we can to discourage that. But nothing on a widespread scale has happened.”
“It’s unfortunate that politicians on the right claim that there’s widespread voter fraud when, in fact, there’s not,” he told NBC4’s Marshall.
And he told the Cincinnati Enquirer in November, “Under the rules in place, President Biden won,” adding later, “It was not responsible for some Republicans to claim false things about the 2020 election.”