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Ohio elections officials being hit with requests for lots of records from the 2020 vote

A line of Columbus residents waiting for their voting location to open at 7:30am on November 3, 2020. Voter turnout in all counties was heavy for that presidential election.
Karen Kasler
/
Statehouse News Bureau
A line of Columbus residents waiting for their voting location to open at 7:30am on November 3, 2020. Voter turnout in all counties was heavy for that presidential election.

Despite no credible claims of problems with the November 2020 vote in Ohio, dozens of huge requests for voting records from that election are coming in to county elections officials, as they’re finishing up work on a second statewide primary and gearing up for this fall’s election.

Delivering on those could mean more work and costs for those boards and obstacles for workers, who are already dealing with a challenging election year.

Ohio Association of Elections Officials president Brian Sleeth directs the Warren County Board of Elections. In an interview for "The State of Ohio", he said seven requests have come in for basically anything related to the 2020 vote, including copies of all ballots and the results tapes that voting machines recorded twice a day, which can be up to 70 feet long each.

“There’d be significant cost and copying everything in our office, for example, all of our ballots. Providing two-sided copies would be a job in itself," Sleeth said. "And then they've asked for voting machine tapes. And those are like just a little cash register tapes that you would get at your supermarket when you go grocery shopping. Those are about 60 to 70 feet long each twice a day in the morning and evening. And they've asked for copies of those tapes too."

And Sleeth said the requests nearly identical: “The only thing different was the email address they came from and the signature at the bottom.”

Sleeth said that’s happened in nearly every county in Ohio.

In 2020, 5,974,121 Ohioans cast ballots in the general election, which was 73.99% of registered voters in Ohio. That was a record for the total number of ballots cast. It was just short of the highest percentage of voters to cast ballots in an election in Ohio, which was set in November 1992 with 77.14%.

Voting materials from the 2020 election were set to be destroyed 22 months after that vote, which would be next month. Since those requesting the records have asked for those materials, Sleeth said they'll be kept for now — which could create storage issues for some boards.

Sleeth said his board and others are looking to guidance from county prosecutors on how to comply with these requests, and said they want to help but are hoping to get a better understanding what data the requesters are looking for. Sleeth said some boards may have to hire extra personnel to do the work if they have to provide all of the records that have been requested.

There’s never been a dispute over Ohio’s election results. Secretary of State Frank LaRose said earlier this year there were 62 potential cases of fraud out of 5.9 million votes cast in the November 2020 election - half involve people who are non-U.S. citizens who registered to vote and another 27 cases involve people who allegedly cast a 2020 General Election ballot illegally.

LaRose announced this week the 11 people referred to Attorney General Dave Yost for further investigation of potential election law violations. The referrals include 10 non-citizens who registered to vote but did not cast a ballot and one non-citizen who may have voted illegally.

And this comes as officials are preparing for November's election, which will feature a hotly-contested open U.S. Senate race, five statewide executive offices, three Ohio Supreme Court races, 15 congressional races, and 99 state House and 17 state Senate races.

Sleeth said elections officials will be prepared in November and will deliver on the requests as they're advised to do, but he added, "I think it probably bogs down the smaller offices a whole lot more than it would the larger offices, [which] basically have employees just to fulfill records requests or things of this nature."

Boards of elections in other states are also reporting a flurry of lengthy public records requests from the 2020 vote, including North Carolina, Nevada and Arizona, where election deniers have been actively trying to overturn the 2020 results.

Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Karen is a lifelong Ohioan who has served as news director at WCBE-FM, assignment editor/overnight anchor at WBNS-TV, and afternoon drive anchor/assignment editor in WTAM-AM in Cleveland. In addition to her daily reporting for Ohio’s public radio stations, she’s reported for NPR, the BBC, ABC Radio News and other news outlets. She hosts and produces the Statehouse News Bureau’s weekly TV show “The State of Ohio”, which airs on PBS stations statewide. She’s also a frequent guest on WOSU TV’s “Columbus on the Record”, a regular panelist on “The Sound of Ideas” on ideastream in Cleveland, appeared on the inaugural edition of “Face the State” on WBNS-TV and occasionally reports for “PBS Newshour”. She’s often called to moderate debates, including the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s Issue 3/legal marijuana debate and its pre-primary mayoral debate, and the City Club of Cleveland’s US Senate debate in 2012.