LaRose’s Call for “Greater Flexibility” Could Lead to 2004-Style Poll Overcrowding and Long Lines
COLUMBUS — Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose is pushing for polling place consolidations for in-person voting on Election Day, but the specifics of LaRose’s plan “to reevaluate the requirements … for the numbers of poll workers and machines” could roll back an essential reform enacted after the 2004 election, when Ohioans waited in lines for hours to cast their ballots.
“Secretary of State Frank LaRose is proposing a number of reforms for this November’s election, but tucked into his plan is seemingly innocuous language about providing officials ‘greater flexibility’ to administer the election,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. “LaRose never makes explicit what this means, but we have concerns that he is encouraging Ohio legislators to eliminate statutory language that requires counties to provide a minimum number of voting machines per capita.
“If Ohio Republicans do this — at LaRose’s urging — it will hamper in-person voting, bringing Ohio back to the 2004 Ken Blackwell days, when overcrowded polling locations and hours-long lines made Ohio a national case study on how not to run elections.”
In 2004, some Ohioans waited in line up to 10 hours, and perhaps more than 170,000 would-be voters left before casting a ballot. That disastrous 2004 election led to bipartisan legislation that addressed many of the issues that arose. One reform was to lock in a maximum ratio of voters per voting machine, so polling locations would never again be overwhelmed by long lines, particularly in majority African-American and university precincts.
While LaRose has been cagey about this element of his plan, the Ohio Association of Election Officials makes it explicit in their list of recommendations for Ohio lawmakers:
Allow boards of elections greater flexibility to consolidate polling locations by increasing the number of voters per precinct and eliminating the DRE [direct recording electronic voting machine] to voter ratio in statute.
“Ohio voters deserve to hear directly from Frank LaRose if he supports rolling back a reform that actually worked in reducing crowding and lines at polling locations,” said Pepper. “Why would we want to cause overcrowding and long lines when we’re dealing with a crisis that makes those long lines a major threat to public health? It’s the last thing you’d want to do.”