Election 2018: Ohio's Secretary of State Race

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By Nick Evans, WOSU

On a drizzly Saturday, I met Frank LaRose at the Marion Popcorn Festival.  LeRose asked for help in making his selection.

"So what do you guys suggest? I'm definitely going to get some kettle corn," he said.

In November, the Republican LaRose faces off against Democrat Kathleen Clyde. Both currently serve in the state legislature, and they're trying to make the leap from representing a few hundred thousand to all 11.5 million Ohioans. That's complicated by one very important question on many voters' minds — what exactly does the secretary of state do? 

"If you ask the average Ohioan they probably would not know."

That's OSU political scientist Herb Asher. The secretary has a grab bag of responsibilities—licensing businesses, collecting campaign finance records, even commissioning notaries.

"The key thing about the Ohio Secretary of State is that he or she is an independently elected statewide officer who's most visible set of responsibilities deals with running elections in Ohio, so chief elections officer of the state of Ohio," said Asher.

Most recently Ohio's election system has been in the news for how it maintains its voter rolls. Current Secretary John Husted won a narrow victory when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the practice of removing voters from rolls after they fail to vote in six consecutive elections and don't return a notice sent to their registered address.  Kathleen Clyde says that approach is unacceptable.

"I want to center this," said Clyde.  "Bring us back to a normal process that makes sure we're not catching people who are still eligible to vote, and still want to vote, that we see in this broken process that Ohio uses now."

LaRose isn't exactly trumpeting the procedure.

"We've got a supreme court decision saying that Ohio's method is constitutional. That doesn't mean it's optimal, right? So let's work on making it better and that starts with a conversation at the state Legislature where we make the laws," he said.

LaRose struck a bipartisan tone, emphasizing his work on across the aisle on redistricting. He said he caught a lot of flak from fellow Republicans when he signed onto a reform measure in his first year in the state Senate. 

"And my response inevitably, was some version of listen this is not for me anyway what's best for one party or another, it's about making our democracy function right."

In addition to their records, both candidates tout their latest legislative proposals to improve election security. LaRose would create a cybersecurity task force within the Ohio National Guard to help identify vulnerabilities in the election system.  Kathleen Clyde is pushing a comprehensive re-tooling, with paper ballots, post-election audits and a new cyber-security director in the secretary's office.

"And he or she would be advised by a bipartisan council of security experts and voter advocates," she said.  "I think that is a comprehensive plan to address the threats we face in our election system."

Herb Asher saw both as competent, impressive candidates, and said they're backing ideas that cross party lines like protecting and encouraging voting. He also noted winning a statewide race could give the eventual secretary the name recognition to run for higher office.


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