By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s Republican elections chief announced a new public integrity unit Wednesday in response to what he called Americans’ “crisis of confidence” in the electoral process, while acknowledging the state’s reputation for vote safely.
The unit, which goes into effect next week, will consolidate and highlight the investigative work of the Ohio secretary of state and will eventually have one or more dedicated investigators, Secretary of State Frank LaRose said in a statement. However, those investigators won’t start until after the general election.
He referred to a growing national trend “indicating a crisis of confidence in the electoral process.”
That crisis is largely a concern of Republican voters and stems from lies told by former President Donald Trump about voter fraud in the campaign won by Joe Biden.
Numerous federal and local election officials from both parties, a long list of courts, top former campaign staffers and even Trump’s own attorney general have said there is no evidence of the voter fraud the former president alleges.
For his part, LaRose initially said the 2020 election was safe and accurate, but as last spring’s primary approached, which LaRose won, defeating a 2020 election skeptic, he began to echo some of Trump’s talking points.
LaRose claimed there were problems in other states and touted his office’s work to combat voter fraud. Trump endorsed LaRose, a longtime supporter.
LaRose said his new division will help his office do the work it already does more efficiently and thoroughly, such as voting system certification and investigating election law violations, including a team dedicated to investigating rare cases of voter fraud or suppression and campaign finance violations. said LaRose, who is seeking a second term in November.
“Our elections are being scrutinized like never before, and any lack of absolute confidence in the accuracy and honesty of those elections undermines the very foundation of our democracy,” LaRose said in a statement.
He also referred to Ohio’s “strong national reputation for safe, accurate, and accessible elections.”
LaRose’s announcement follows a decision in Florida in which lawmakers and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis created a police force dedicated to prosecuting voter fraud and other election crimes.
Democrats called the LaRose news a waste of taxpayer money meant to bolster their political aspirations. LaRose’s name is often mentioned as a possible candidate for the US Senate in 2024.
LaRose identified just one case of possible illegal voting earlier this year, party spokesman Matt Keyes said, making the new office “a taxpayer-funded solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Chelsea Clark, LaRose’s Democratic opponent, disputed the timing of the announcement. She also highlighted LaRose’s efforts to keep his other opponent, independent candidate Terpeshore Maras, off the ballot. Clark called out LaRose for a “history of politicizing these investigations to punish opponents.”
Maras is a conservative podcaster who accepts Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. Last month, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that she was eligible to run for Ohio secretary of state this fall.
In August, LaRose’s office upheld a judge’s ruling that several of Maras’ petition signatures were invalid and invalidated his candidacy, a move overturned by the state Supreme Court.
Maras dismissed the measure as a pre-election posturing.
If elected, she wouldn’t need such a unit, because “every employee in our office already has some part delegated to ensuring that every Ohioan has a single safe vote that is counted correctly, nothing more, nothing less,” she said. Maras.
Associated Press writer Kantele Franko in Columbus contributed to this report.
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