“Is Frank LaRose proving that Ohio needs a neutral, non-partisan elections chief?”

Kevin Johnson oped in Ohio Capital Journal:

What would the NCAA do if the head referee in the Ohio State-Michigan game spent his free time leading rallies and fundraisers for the Wolverines? Even if he assured fans he’d be neutral for the game itself, Buckeye nation would never believe him. 

This scenario just happened in the political arena, in the campaign surrounding the Aug. 8 Issue 1 ballot initiative. 

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose plannedcampaigned for, solicited money for, and bent state rules for the “yes” vote in that election. During the final weeks of the campaign, he was a declared candidate for U.S. Senate with a personal interest in taking sides to gain GOP support. Though implications for the abortion ballot initiative in November have dominated news coverage of August’s Issue 1, this leadership failure atop the state’s election system should not be ignored. Ohio Elections need neutral referees just as much as sports do. 

LaRose brushed off accusations of conflicts of interest, saying campaigning occurred outside his “official function.” But imagine a judge publicly giving advice to help one side win a case before him; he’d still be sanctioned if he did so outside his court room. Likewise, open public bias from election administrators shouldn’t happen, whether within official functions or not. 

LaRose is hardly alone. Research found that one-third of secretaries of state serving since 2000 endorsed a candidate running in a race under their supervision, and 20% lost lawsuits in circumstances where secretaries’ actions arguably favored their political party. Tellingly, these partisan acts occurred at a higher rate among the subset of secretaries who ran for higher office — as LaRose is now. 

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