Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced Wednesday the establishment of the Public Integrity Division. The newly-formed office, he said, will be dedicated to maintaining secure, accurate, and accessible elections in the state of Ohio.
“It’s time that we have it. We are consolidating several things that already exist. All of those are existing functions in our office but by putting them all under one roof with trained professionals we can do this work much better,” LaRose told The Ohio Star.
Ohio Revised Code 3501.05(N)(1) states the secretary of state is required to “investigate the administration of election laws, frauds, and irregularities in elections in any county, and report violations of election laws to the attorney general or prosecuting attorney, or both, for prosecution.”
LaRose said that so far, these duties have been divided between clerks and election administrators who are purposeful, dedicated public servants but are not trained investigators. By creating this division, he said, he is trying to dig deeper into these issues preserving American confidence in the state of our democracy.
“This is a responsibility I take very seriously because this quite simply is about defending democracy,” LaRose said in the statement announcing the new division. “Our elections are being scrutinized like never before, and any lack of absolute confidence in the accuracy and honesty of those elections weakens the very foundation of our democracy. It’s the duty of my office to earn and maintain that trust.”
LaRose noted that although voter fraud and suppression have been rare in Ohio elections, any offense can potentially affect Ohio voter confidence in election outcomes. Strengthening investigative abilities and enhancing the transparency of security protocols and outcomes, it is believed, will give voters increased confidence in the integrity of Ohio’s electoral system.
Attorney General Dave Yost applauded the move. “As the chief election officer for our state it makes sense that election integrity be an integral focus to their office,” Yost said. “This work falls firmly within the Secretary of State’s purview and my team stands ready to assist. Properly enforcing election laws is the best way to keep Ohio’s elections honest and secure.”
According to a FAQ about the new office, the Public Integrity Division will hold three investigative sections which include the statutory duties of the secretary of state: election administration, campaign finance, and business services. The division combines some of the office’s current investigative functions, such as campaign finance reporting, voting system certification, voter registration integrity, election law violation investigations, data retention and transparency, and cybersecurity protocols. However, rather than spreading these resources across multiple divisions, LaRose seeks to combine these areas into one central department.
The secretary of state’s announcement added that the new division will increase investigative resources to more thoroughly and efficiently investigate and pursue attempts at obstruction, intimidation, or interference with registration and voting. It will provide both cyber and physical security and will track county compliance. It will increase data security, and improve voter registration and the performance of post-election audits. Campaign finance reports will be filed by this division as well as investigations regarding complaints of Ohio notaries. The division will also assist in protecting Ohio businesses from cybercrime or identity theft. The office will also recommend legislative and administrative changes to improve the integrity of public policy.
According to a new national NBC News poll, “One in five registered voters said that the most important issue facing the country is threats to democracy, but the exact nature of those threats varies widely by political party.”
The Public Integrity Division will begin operations on October 10, prior to the Ohio registration deadline on October 11 and the beginning of early voting on October 12. New investigators will be added to the division after the 2022 general election.
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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Frank LaRose” by Frank LaRose.