Republicans on Controlling Board Reject LaRose Request to Fund Postage on Absentee Ballots
his best efforts to convince them otherwise, all four Republicans on the
Controlling Board Monday voted down a request from Secretary of State Frank
LaRose that would allow him to use funds from his own office to pay for postage
on absentee ballots.
appeared himself at the meeting, which was held through video conference, and
stressed that he has the authority to pay for postage, he just needed the
authorization to transfer the funds to do so. He also argued that doing so will
get voters to send back their ballots to boards more promptly, which is more
important this year because of the pandemic.
Bob Peterson (R-Sabina) said the issue is normally in the purview of the
Legislature, and pointed to House passage of HB680 (Abrams), legislation
sitting in the Senate that forbids the secretary of state from paying for
postage on ballots in addition to a ban already in the Ohio Revised Code on
county boards of elections' paying for postage. Peterson said a funding issue
such as this does not normally come before the Controlling Board.
said he had made a request to pay for postage to the General Assembly on May 6
as part of a bigger package that he said would assist his office for this
election. The Legislature chose not to act on his request. Going forward, he
said he is supportive of a ban to pay postage, but because "this is not a
normal election," he felt it was necessary to do so for this election.
also noted that 20 other states, both led by Democrats and Republicans, are
paying return postage this year, and that it does not benefit one party over
the other. Peterson argued that those states have explicitly included the
authority in the law.
Bill Coley (R-West Chester) also questioned LaRose about what authority the
secretary of state has to pay for postage. LaRose noted that his predecessors
often used business services funds to pay for elections costs, and his
immediate predecessor, now-Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, funded the operation of his
office out of the fund. Other secretaries of state used the fund to purchase
voting machines, train poll workers, and defend elections-related litigation.
is not an uncommon practice to use this fund," he said.
Republican House members of the Controlling Board, Rep. Scott Oelsalger
(R-North Canton) and Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro), also made their
opposition clear, saying their chamber voted in HB680 to prohibit the practice,
and that they believe Ohioans have plenty of opportunities to cast a ballot
before Election Day.
said he is loathe to change the rules so close to the beginning of absentee voting.
Wilkin said he believed it would be disrespectful to vote to approve the
request after the House voted not to allow it.
response, LaRose said the Legislature also weighed in on the topic of paying
postage during a pandemic, authorizing it for the primary earlier this year. He
said he would not support paying postage as a routine matter, but this year,
many Ohioans do not believe going to the polls is the safest option for them.
He said has spoken to voters who told him that if postage is paid for, they
will likely return the ballot faster. He added that he doesn't believe it is
the cost of the stamp that keeps people from sending back the absentee ballot
right away, but that many Ohioans don't necessarily keep postage around when
they pay most of their bills online.
added that it has support from the Ohio Association of Elections Officials. He
said they can logistically get it done if it gets authorized.
Jack Cera (D-Bellaire), who supported the request along with Sen. Vern Sykes
(D-Akron), asked Controlling Board President W. Fletch Zimpher if this type of
action to move money around has been done by the Controlling Board before.
Zimpher said establishing appropriation authority is something the board has
done in the past.
the Controlling Board rejected the request, LaRose issued a statement saying
that it was the last realistic opportunity for the Legislature to act on his
request and that there is not enough time to put something else together. His
office said the U.S. Postal Service as well as a major contractor of county
boards of elections have communicated that three weeks were necessary to ensure
ballots sent on Oct. 6 would have postage applied.
has a sound elections system, but today was another missed opportunity by the Legislature
to make a small change, without an impact on our state budget, that would yield
a big improvement. Ohio voters have 216 hours to vote early in person from Oct.
6 through Nov. 2, 13 hours to vote on Election Day, or they can request an
absentee ballot by mail and it will be sent to them beginning Oct. 6. Make a
plan. Don’t procrastinate. Make sure your voice is heard.”
pushed LaRose to push forward on the request without the Legislature, telling
him to use federal CARES Act funding to pay for it.
have repeatedly made it clear that they are not interested in making this
general election as accessible as possible during a pandemic,” said House
Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron). “But as Democrats have continued to
point out, the secretary of state does not need additional legislative approval
to make this happen. We urge Secretary LaRose to use existing federal funds to
ensure Ohioans have access to absentee ballots this fall.”
said that is not possible, as most of the CARES funds went directly to the
county boards of elections.
the remaining CARES dollars, my office spent the vast majority -- roughly $1.5
million -- to send an absentee ballot request to every eligible voter. The
minimal remaining unencumbered balance is not nearly sufficient to pay for
statewide return postage and is needed to provide our county boards of
elections a safety net for unforeseen emergency purchases to carry out safe,
secure and accurate elections this fall," LaRose said.
for postage on absentee ballots also had the support of Senate Finance
Committee Chairman Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls), but he said Senate Leadership
did not go along with his recommendation. He also noted that as chairman, he is
statutorily named as a Controlling Board member, but Senate President Larry Obhof
(R-Medina) has named a replacement for his seat on the panel this session.
the COVID-19 pandemic imposing challenges for voters, combined with the current
shortage of poll workers and both political parties in Ohio encouraging
supporters to vote, I think pre-paid postage on return absentee ballots is the
right approach for 2020," Dolan said.
a separate request from the secretary of state's office to pay for a television
and radio ad campaign for the upcoming election, Cera said that there has been
confusion in his counties and other areas over whether voting by mail is safe.
He said he hopes any effort by the secretary of state stresses that Ohio has
been doing this kind of voting for years and that it is safe. LaRose's office
assured Cera that it is an issue that he has been working on and that the television
and radio ads are just one part of the public service outreach.
also questioned the Ohio EPA on an item to acquire and restore four properties
on the Western Lake Erie watershed, continuing to share his philosophical belief
that the government should avoid holding property that can be used for private
Craycraft, a legislative liaison for the Ohio EPA, said that the acquisition of
the 207 acres of property is the result of a lawsuit settlement, and that the
agency will not be the long-term steward of the property. When asked about
converting some of the property that was farmland to wetlands, Craycraft said
less than 50 acres were productive farm area, and that the owners wanted to
sell the land.
item was approved without objection.
requests from the attorney general addressing the lead cleanup at outdoor gun
ranges for the Ohio Police Officer Training Academy were deferred at the
request of the attorney general's office.
Story originally published in The Hannah Report on September 14, 2020. Copyright 2020 Hannah News Service, Inc.