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After supporting elimination of August elections, Secretary of State now says sometimes they're ok

Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose speaks at a press conference on a bill on February 22, 2023.
Karen Kasler
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose speaks at a press conference on a bill on February 22, 2023.

Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose is suggesting he’s on board with an August election for voters to decide on a GOP-backed plan he supports to make it harder to amend the state constitution – even though three months ago he testified in favor of the law that got rid of August special election.

Republicans have said they want to "protect the Ohio constitution", as supporters of an reproductive rights and abortion access amendment have been gathering signatures to put it on the ballot in November. An August election on the 60% voter approval for constitutional amendments would be three months before the reproductive rights issue.

In testimony on House Bill 458 in December, LaRose wrote about some August 2020 special elections with what he called "embarrassingly low turnout" of 11.8% and 6.8%.

"That means just a handful of voters end up making big decisions. The side that wins is often the one that has a vested interest in the passage of the issue up for consideration. This isn’t how democracy is supposed to work."

House Bill 458 also requires voters to show photo ID and limits counties to one secure ballot drop box, among other things. It passed in December and was signed in January, and takes effect April 7.

But if Republican lawmakers approve Senate Bill 92, reviving the August special election to vote on the requirement of 60% voter approval for constitutional amendments proposed by state lawmakers, LaRose said he’s ok with that.

“As a course of action, normal course of doing business, yes, I do not believe in having elections in August as a normal way of holding elections. But if the state legislature decides to hold an election in August, it's not unusual," LaRose said.

In fact, it is unusual. There have been only two August statewide votes regarding the constitution, one to approve an entirely new constitution in 1874, and one for an amendment in 1926. Both were overwhelmingly rejected.

LaRose said, “Generally as a normal course of business, year in and year out, allowing local municipalities, for example, or or whatever, you know, local school districts or local tax sewer districts or whatever else, to have a sneaky levy when nobody's paying attention is problematic. A statewide issue is a very different thing.”

In December, LaRose wrote that preparing for August special elections is difficult for boards of elections, and that those preparations are "wasteful and cost the taxpayers precious scarce resources." He noted the County Commissioners Association of Ohio and the Ohio Association of Election Officials both supported the bill.

LaRose suggested in that testimony that instead of August special elections, voters could decide important issues during primary and general elections which happen twice a year.

"These unnecessary “off-cycle” elections aren’t good for taxpayers, election officials. or the civic health of our state. It’s time for them to go!" wrote LaRose in that testimony.

The August special election idea first came up a week ago, when Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said he thought there was a "possibility" that could happen. After Senate Bill 92 was put forward, House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) quashed the idea. He noted the law to eliminate the August special election was just voted on a few months ago, and "the county election officials I've talked to are not interested in having it. I'm frankly not interested in having an election in August."

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.