In the past I’ve found Secretary Frank LaRose of Ohio to be interested in bipartisan and commonsense approaches to election administration. He was one of the two keynotes (along with Michigan SOS Jocelyn Benson) at our February conference, “Can American Democracy Survive the 2020 Elections?” Here’s the video of that event. (Some participants, but not the Secretaries, later drafted the Fair Elections During a Crisis report).
But lately I’ve been disappointed with the Secretary’s resistance to a court order allowing drop boxes for the return of absentee ballots, and now comes this much more troubling news from ProPublica:
On July 15, a civil rights group formed by Black union workers called on the Ohio secretary of state to make voting amid the pandemic easier and safer. It advocated placing multiple secure ballot drop boxes in counties across the state.
When a deputy to Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose received the A. Philip Randolph Institute’s press release, he responded quickly — but not to the group. Instead, according to records obtained by ProPublica, the deputy contacted the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky, a leading advocate for the discredited argument that American elections are tainted by widespread voting fraud.
“I just left a voicemail at your office, but wanted to follow up via email as well,” wrote Grant Shaffer, the deputy assistant secretary of state. “If you have a few minutes, I’d love to discuss the attached press release.”
That was the second email Shaffer sent von Spakovsky’s office that day. Earlier, he had RSVP’d to an Aug. 4 virtual briefing hosted by the conservative activist. Secretaries of state are responsible for overseeing elections, and during the pandemic von Spakovsky has organized at least two remote, off-the-record strategy sessions exclusively for Republican secretaries and their staffs to discuss voting security amid what will be one of the most contested and unusual elections in generations, ProPublica reported last week.
“I’ll be happy to attend this briefing,” Shaffer wrote to von Spakovsky’s assistant. “The Secretary can attend for part of the time, and our scheduler will be following up with you shortly on that topic. Is there anything we can help out with or be prepared to present?”
It is not known what Shaffer and von Spakovsky specifically said over the phone about the drop box request, or if the call took place. But on Aug. 12, a week after the virtual briefing, and a month after Shaffer sought von Spakovksy’s counsel, LaRose issued a directive prohibiting each of Ohio’s 88 counties from installing more than one drop box within its borders.
The secretary’s office, meanwhile, never responded to the A. Philip Randolph Institute, according to the group’s lawyer, David Carey, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. He said he was “baffled” that LaRose’s deputy would reach out to von Spakovsky and not his client. “If the secretary is turning the voting systems in Ohio into a partisan endeavor, that is a matter of extremely grave concern,” he said.