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Sec. of State blames rushed preparation period for rocky start to May 3 primary

Sec. of State blames rushed preparation period for rocky start to May 3 primary
Posted at 7:42 PM, May 03, 2022

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The first primary election day in Ohio wasn't completely smooth sailing for some Boards of Elections across the state. However, none of the issues impacted voter security.

Inside the election's Command Center, Sec. of State Frank LaRose monitored the 88 different boards — and explained to News 5's Morgan Trau how he dealt with them and what he thought the cause was.

What should have been 100 days to prepare for a primary election turned into 45.

"Oh, sure, yeah. I mean, no question about it," LaRose said when responding to if the rush may have caused the issues at different boards. "Nobody does their best work in a hurry."

When you're doing 100 days' worth of work in 45 days, then "things like this can happen," he added.

"I've tried to warn the General Assembly, the Redistricting Commission, the general public — I've been saying this since January," he said. "Our Boards of Elections have had to deal with a lot in a compressed period of time."

The issues arising on the first primary day are related to the redistricting debacle, he acknowledged.

"As you know, unfortunately, we weren't able to put in the same hundred days of preparation that we would normally have on the routine process because of all the litigation that we faced," he said.

The Ohio Redistricting Commission (ORC) continually passed maps that were struck down as unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court. LaRose is part of that commission that voted on the GOP-created maps.

The secretary has a unique role in this election. He is the chief elections officer, a role that oversees, organizes and makes sure that the election is not only safe but fair. On the other hand, he is on the ORC.

Some critics of LaRose argue that he put himself in this position. The more vocal advocates against him, the Ohio Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters, say if he hadn't voted to move forward with maps that were unconstitutional or barely different from already rejected maps, the commission could have created constitutional maps that wouldn't have gotten caught up in court constantly. They also argue that the primary could have been moved.

There were technical issues with the electronic poll books at some locations in Cuyahoga and Lucas counties in the morning. Those are the devices used to check-in.

The issue in Cuyahoga County was resolved by 8 a.m., their board told News 5. Lucas County was resolved as well, but it is unclear at what time. LaRose's staff told him around 3:00 p.m., but it could have happened earlier while he was busy.

There were power outages in at least two counties.

One precinct in Cuyahoga County couldn't find their ballots.

Some voters say they were turned away or forced to wait in long lines to vote.

"There were some reports of some people saying that they were turned away," the secretary said. "We can't verify that or not."

Poll workers are trained to never turn people away from polling locations, LaRose said.

"Maybe folks got impatient or whatever because that is the one thing that happens when you have to go from the electronic check-in that takes about 30 to 45 seconds to the paper checking — it takes a minute, minute and a half," he said. "There's a little bit of an efficiency lag."

The Command Center is where all those issues are dealt with. His team members have different jobs. Some deal with issues from the boards and others scroll social media to look into claims made by users — searching for potentially suspicious activity.

With unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud being touted by former President Donald Trump and six of the seven GOP candidates for U.S. Senate, LaRose said he believes Ohio isn't having the same issue.

"I will tell you that as an observer, I've seen things in other states that are concerning," he said. "But again, I'm not an expert at other states, but it does seem clear that things went on."

When addressing Ohio, LaRose said that "we've protected our process."

"In Ohio, we have a process where there is bipartisan oversight, where we maintain accurate voter rolls," he said. "We don't settle these activist lawsuits at the last minute. We fight them. We say, 'you're not going to change the election laws at the courthouse, if you want to do that, you've got to go to the Statehouse.'"

After the voting process, his team goes back and verifies afterward that they got it right, he said, referencing a post-election audit.

"Paper is checked by bipartisan teams that have all taken an oath to do that job, and they're bound by law to uphold that oath," he said. "In Ohio, I stand behind our process because it is in a lot of ways the gold standard for what other states should do."

"Take it directly from, you know, conservative luminaries like Jim Jordan that said that Ohio is the gold standard. President Trump said Ohio ran the election properly in an interview he did on The Sean Hannity Show last year. So, I'm proud of what we have in Ohio. I'd like to help other states learn how to do it as well as we do."

U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan and Trump are both being investigated by the Jan. 6 committee for their role in attempting to overturn the 2020 election.

RELATED: LaRose says Dems might wreck election integrity, touts Trump, who’s suspected of election fraud

Despite the issues occurring at different polling places, LaRose said that everything is going safely. None of the problems would have impacted anyone's vote, ballots going missing, etc.

"We had to compress some of those [election preparation] timelines and the Boards of Elections really stepped up," he said.

The fact that they were able to get things together for early voting and that early voting ran so smoothly is a testament to their commitment, he added.

The state even has a record number of early voters, LaRose commented. Early voting started slow and then kept increasing by week four.

"As of 2 p.m. yesterday when early voting closed, we had actually broken the record from 2014 and 2018, which were those comparable years," he said. "But what it showed was really strong participation, especially on the Republican side ,and no surprise, there's a lot of enthusiasm about the U.S. Senate race and that kind of thing."

Ballots will start being counted once the polls close at 7:30 p.m. The first to get counted are absentee and early voting ballots, the secretary said.

The results viewers will see Tuesday night and for the next two weeks or so will be unofficial — which is still reliable — but absentee ballots and military ballots can continue to arrive as long as they are postmarked before Election Day.

"The Board of Elections already has all those early votes and absentee votes so they can push that button and tabulate those right at 7:30," he said. "So really, as early as 7:45, 8:00, you will start to see those early vote numbers."

Once it gets a bit later, the precinct location ballots start coming in.

"But what's more important than speed is accuracy," he said. "We usually provide both in Ohio, and that's something Ohioans appreciate, that they can go to bed at a reasonable night on election night, knowing what those unofficial results are.

"But we won't ever rush the process if that means compromising the accuracy of it. Accuracy comes first."

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.