(The Center Square) — Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose wants up to $3 million to pay for postage for absentee ballots cast in November’s election.
LaRose made a request to the Ohio Controlling Board to use funds from his office’s Business Services Division fund.
In May, following the much-maligned primary, LaRose made several recommendations to state lawmakers, including allocating general revenue fund (GRF) dollars to cover the cost of postage for absentee ballots. However, state lawmakers did not act on the request.
“If the controlling board approves our request, they will effectively be making every mailbox a drop box for millions of Ohioans, making it easier than ever to cast a ballot in a general election,” LaRose said in a statement. “No state GRF or federal funds will be used to pay for it; instead, we’re ready to take it out of my office’s own budget to get it done.”
In 2016, 1.2 million Ohioans cast an absentee ballot by mail, and LaRose has told boards of elections across the Buckeye State they should expect that number to double this year. Despite asking for $3 million, election officials do not think total costs for postage will exceed $2 million.
Democrats and Republicans in Ohio, just as they have nationally, have sparred about absentee and voting by mail.
This week, congressional Democrats from Ohio sent a letter to LaRose urging him to reverse course on a decision they say prohibits “local boards of election from providing multiple secure ballot drop boxes in each county.” U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and U.S. Reps. Marcy Kaptur, Joyce Beatty and Tim Ryan, all Democrats, signed the letter.
LaRose, a Republican, dismissed the complaint, saying Ohioans have more opportunities to vote than ever before.
“In the next few weeks, I will be mailing every registered voter in this state an absentee ballot application with a return envelope addressed to the voter’s county board of elections,” LaRose said in response to the delegation. “Ohioans will also have access to 216 hours of early voting over 28 days, including Saturdays and Sundays in the weekends before Election Day, and polls will be open for 13 hours on” Nov. 3.
However, that hasn’t stopped Democrats at the state level from lobbing their own complaints.
The House Democratic Caucus sent a 16-point checklist with their demands, including an online absentee ballot application, having multiple secure drop boxes in each county and keeping all polling locations open. They also want paid return postage and said LaRose already has Controlling Board approval to use federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for that purpose.
“After witnessing Sec. LaRose’s election mess in March, Ohioans know that the global pandemic and an overwhelmed Postal Service threatens their right to vote,” state Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney, D-Cleveland, said in a statement. The question – one we’ve asked for months – is: What are we going to do about it? This is no ordinary time. It requires extraordinary efforts to protect our Republic.”