LaRose bends to election denying extremists again by pulling Ohio out of database integrity program
Watch what the “election integrity” scammers do, not what they say. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose says a lot these days about voter fraud because he’s posturing for a U.S. Senate run. LaRose, like every other MAGA-snowing Republican, knows the GOP base believes the myth of massive voting fraud so he talks as though it’s more rampant than exceedingly rare.
Even though LaRose boasts about Ohio’s by-the-book elections, he can’t stop jawing about potential voter fraud cases in the state, which, by his own admission, are infinitesimal. He continues to validate (baseless) voting suspicions seeded by election deniers by using MAGA code (“election integrity”) to reinforce the notion that election remedy is needed.
But more important than what LaRose has said to curry favor with right wing extremists or clowns in the congressional “election integrity caucus,” it’s what Ohio’s election chief has done to threaten the integrity of our state elections that matters. In a Friday night news dump (to minimize media scrutiny) LaRose’s office announced that Ohio was ditching a great data-sharing tool available to states (across the political spectrum) to detect and prevent voter fraud.
Mr. Election Integrity himself joined a handful of other Republican states in abruptly quitting an anti-voter fraud initiative (recently scorched by far right conspiracy cranks) that he praised as “one of the best fraud-fighting tools that we have” last month. The bipartisan network of over 30 member states, operating in relative obscurity for over a decade, shares a sophisticated and secure voter database called the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC for short.
It’s a dependable data-matching tool that allows red, blue, and purple states to flag voters who may have died or moved to another state. Voter participation data also helps states identify and ultimately prosecute people who vote in multiple states. In other words, this interstate collaborative helps states share voter registration information to improve the integrity of their voter lists for clean elections.
Besides enhancing the accuracy of voter rolls — keeping lists up-to-date to make voting easier and cheating harder — (as LaRose loves to chirp about Ohio’s election system) ERIC also helps states better identify, contact, and offer eligible but unregistered citizens the opportunity to register to vote. But LaRose, once a proponent of voter-outreach programs to bring more Ohioans to the polls, pressed to opt out of that requirement.
Before he withdrew from a network created to boost election security and increase registered voters, LaRose huffed that unless state partners — who collectively fund and govern the national database system — agreed to implement certain “reforms,” Ohio was leaving. Friday, it did after ERIC stuck with encouraging eligible, unregistered voters to register to vote.
LaRose’s politically-motivated move was a victory for a disinformation campaign and a loss for accurate voter files in Ohio absent any national voter registration clearinghouse. He and other withdrawing Republican secretaries of states parroted the same partisan talking points to justify cutting off their nose to spite their face with diminished fraud-fighting ability.
The GOP election chiefs all cited (without evidence) ERIC’s “partisan tendencies,” its failure to embrace certain “reforms” that “would bolster confidence in its performance,” and its suspect “security protocol.” Do not, for a MAGA minute, buy that spin.
There is only one explanation for why Republican-led states, including Ohio, chose to abandon the most effective way to compare voter data across state lines. Here it is: They caved to far-right conspiracy theories launched by election deniers to undermine an organization wedded to facts not fiction.
Early last year, fringe conservative media began a sustained misinformation attack against ERIC, falsely painting it as part of a liberal conspiracy to steal elections. The deception was fanned by an ex-president awaiting indictment for pick-a-crime.
Out of nowhere, the little known association — with a demonstrable record of fighting actual voter fraud — was hit with a torrent of false online claims of being a voter registration vehicle for Democrats funded by George Soros, the liberal billionaire/philanthropist MAGA conspiracists blame for everything.
Trump amplified the lies about the multi-state voting integrity group on his social media platform urging red states to get out of “the terrible Voter Registration System that ‘pumps the rolls’ for Democrats and does nothing to clean them up.” Republican secretaries of state (especially LaRose and three others pandering for a Trump endorsement) fell in MAGA formation.
Weeks ago LaRose endorsed ERIC as “one of the best fraud-fighting tools that we have when it comes to actually catching people that try to vote in multiple states, when it comes to maintaining the accuracy of our voter rolls by removing those who move out of state.”
That’s what Ohio’s top election administrator said. What he did was follow Trump’s edict to exit a trusted system that’s promoted election integrity, kept voter lists accurate, and combatted voter fraud since 2012.
But to snag a seat in the U.S. Senate this “election integrity” scammer will grandstand with the “stolen election” crowd at CPAC, cozy up to a pro-Trump think tank to develop a sea-changing bill on Ohio voter data, (rolled out as a legislative Trojan Horse last week) cheer passage of the most restrictive voter-ID law in the country, and push legislation to end direct democracy via citizen-initiated amendments.
Forget what he says. Watch what LaRose does in the extreme.
Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.
This commentary was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.