Ohio plan aims to boost trust by standardizing election data

Republican Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and GOP state Sen. Theresa Gavarone appear at a Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023, news conference at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, to discuss a proposal to clarify and standardize the way election data is organized, stored and shared across the state. (AP Photo/Julie Carr Smyth)
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose unveiled legislation Wednesday that would clarify and standardize the way election data is organized, stored and shared across the state, a proposal that the Republican says can serve as a national model in addressing the “crisis of confidence” in American elections.

“It's a question of, ‘Do we even all speak the same language about what constitutes a registered voter, what constitutes a voted ballot?’” LaRose, the state's elections chief, said during a Statehouse news conference. “All of these kinds of things are various, not only across Ohio's 88 counties, but across the 50 states, and the really thousands of jurisdictions that conduct elections in this country."

The Data Analysis Transparency Archive Act, sponsored by GOP state Sen. Theresa Gavarone, would codify standard definitions of key election data points, mandate the transfer of that data from county election boards to a new state Office of Data Analytics and Archives and empower that office to analyze and organize the information and publish it online.

“Having good data to help clean the voter rolls will make it even tougher to cheat, and result in better elections and improved voter confidence,” Gavarone said.

The definitions contained in the legislation were developed in cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Data Lab, and drafting help came from the America First Policy Institute, a think tank advancing former President Donald Trump’s public policy priorities, LaRose said.

Trump's refusal to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election has helped fuel the culture of skepticism, paranoia and conspiracy theories currently enveloping U.S. elections. In that contest's immediate aftermath, Trump and his allies zeroed in on voting systems and claimed without evidence that they had been manipulated to steal the election from him. This led to attempts across the country to examine voting equipment and voter data, but there is no evidence of any widespread voter fraud or tampering with election equipment.

LaRose said passing the DATA Act, which he is also promoting among secretaries in other states, could be an "antidote to (the) falsehoods."

“I would put forth the supposition that, when people look behind the curtain, what they're going to see is how well-run our elections are,” he said. “The problem is that the current ambiguity, the current lack of transparency in some ways, breeds those conspiracy theories that are often not based in reality.”

Voter advocates have cited the exceptional accuracy rate of Ohio’s elections in opposing many of the sweeping election law changes recently seen in the state, including a strict photo ID law that Gavarone championed last year. The senator said it is her view that “if we’re not actively working on ways to improve our elections, then we’ll move backwards and we’re just asking for trouble.”

Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said her organization needs to review the legislation before taking a position. The proposal appears on its surface to align with calls they've been making for years for uniform data collection and dissemination among Ohio's county boards of elections“ so that we can better understanding voting trends and voter needs.”

Still, Miller said she remains cautious.

“Unfortunately, the legislation that we have seen passed most recently has not been based on the actual needs of voters or boards of elections," she said. “So, we are skeptical that legislation will be passed that will truly make the election system better without having robust input from voter advocates, which it doesn’t appear they’re seeking to get.”

Aaron Ockerman, a lobbyist for the Ohio Association of Election Officials, said he had not read the bill and could not comment.