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Ohio plan to include postage on absentee ballots rejected by GOP panelists

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose briefs reporters on election preparations at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus on Sept. 8.
(Associated Press)

A proposal by Ohio’s elections chief to attach postage to every mail-in ballot failed to gain crucial approval Monday, making it all but impossible for ballots to be stamped in time for the November election.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s fellow Republicans on the state’s powerful Controlling Board led the charge against him, with the panel voting 4-2 along party lines to reject the request.

“This should be a legislative issue,” said GOP state Sen. Bob Peterson, voicing the key argument that sank the spending appeal. State Sen. Bill Coley, another Republican, said LaRose’s request was going beyond the authority given to his office by lawmakers and asking them to “look the other way.”

LaRose had asked the board, which oversees some budget changes, to approve $3 million in funds from his office’s Business Services Division for the postage. He appeared at its virtual hearing to argue that the expenditure was within the law.

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“A no vote today is a no vote that is over the objection of our bipartisan election officials and over my objection as the state’s chief elections officer,” LaRose said.

The request represented a last-ditch effort by LaRose after a package of election changes he proposed in May stalled in the GOP-led Legislature. He pitched it as an “innovative solution” for paying postage that would make “every mail box a drop box for millions of Ohioans” and not require spending of state and federal budget dollars.

Troubles at the post office get the spotlight, but other, deeper problems threaten to disenfranchise voters, especially failure to warn of deadlines.

To board members’ pushback, LaRose argued that the same fund has been used in the past to pay for voting machines, poll worker training and election-related legal fees.

LaRose’s effort failed despite support from two former Ohio governors — Democrat Richard Celeste and Republican Bob Taft. The pair wrote a joint letter to committee members last week expressing strong support for ballot postage.

“Voting is not a Democrat or Republican issue — it’s an American issue,” they wrote. “That is why, when the world is facing a pandemic, we must show the courage to take additional steps to empower voters seeking to exercise their sacred right.”

Peterson, the No. 2 leader in the state Senate, attended the hearing while recovering from COVID-19, said Senate spokesman John Fortney. His illness has required Senate President Larry Obhof to quarantine. Another Ohio state senator, Republican Frank Hoagland, has recovered from the virus, Fortney said.

Democrats have contended that LaRose already has both the power and the authorization he needs to add drop boxes and to pay ballot postage. LaRose has said that his lawyers tell him he still needed either legislative authorization or the Controlling Board’s clearance.

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COVID-19 has led to a push for vote by mail, but advocates face logistical and legal hurdles — and “rigged election” claims from President Trump.


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