Brown, Kaptur, Beatty, Fudge, Ryan Demand Answers from Sec. of State Larose Regarding His Affiliation with Voter Suppression Advocate



Lawmakers Are Concerned That LaRose’s Affiliation with Hans Von Spakovsky, The Nation’s Foremost Voter Suppression Advocate, Has Influenced on Sec. Of State’s Election Policy

October 13, 2020 – WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), along with U.S. Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-OH-9), Joyce Beatty (D-OH-3), Tim Ryan (D-OH-13), and Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11), Chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Elections, penned a letter to Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose demanding answers about his office’s contacts with Hans Von Spakovsky, the nation’s leading voter suppression advocate, as well as information about Von Spakovsky’s influence over key decisions made by the Secretary’s office affecting Ohioans’ access to the ballot box.

“All Ohioans must be confident that – no matter how they vote – you and your office will take the steps necessary to ensure that all Ohioans are able to freely and fairly cast their ballots. We are concerned that Mr. Von Spakovsky’s influence over policy decisions coming from your office has undermined the confidence and trust Ohioans placed in your ability to fulfill your duties,” the Ohio lawmakers wrote in their letter.

“From his perch at the Heritage Foundation, Von Spakovsky, has spent years peddling widely debunked theories and pushing to impede Americans from exercising their right to vote. He promotes fictitious voter fraud claims – assertions repudiated by scores of studies and courts of law – and uses them to justify proposals that would deny millions access to the ballot box. In Mr. Von Spakovsky’s long career searching for voter fraud, he never finds it, but along the way he leaves barriers to voting in his wake – particularly for Black and brown voters.  For him, vote suppression is a feature, not a flaw,” the lawmakers continued.

Earlier this month, the lawmakers penned a letter to Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose blasting him for, deceptively, directing alternative ballot drop boxes to be placed alongside existing units. Sec. LaRose’s directive serves as little more than political cover for his ongoing, unilateral campaign to hinder Ohioans’ ability to vote. They also urged Sec. LaRose to live up to his word and permit multiple drop boxes to be located throughout each county, in the wake of three court rulings affirming his authority to do so.

On Sept. 18, the lawmakers sent a letter to LaRose urging him to comply with a Franklin County Court of Common Pleas’ ruling directing him to allow multiple secure ballot drop boxes.

In September, the lawmakers sent a letter to LaRose urging him to work with the skilled and dedicated tradespeople of Ohio to locate additional drop boxes across all 88 counties. The men and women of Ohio State Sheet Metal Workers Locals #24 and #33, as well as the Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council, have said they stand ready to build additional secure ballot boxes, at no cost to the state. LaRose’s recent appeal of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas’ ruling directing him to allow multiple secure ballot drop boxes is the latest example of how he has injected considerable uncertainty at an already challenging time for elections officials, working on tight schedules and budgets.

Brown, Kaptur, Fudge, Beatty, and Ryan also sent a letter to LaRose in September asking him to use his existing authority to prepay postage for absentee ballots and ballot applications for the upcoming 2020 General Election in Ohio. The lawmakers also urged LaRose to communicate with the Postal Service to ensure ballots that originate in Ohio are delivered on time, with visible postmarks, and do not succumb to delays and cost cutting measures, which could endanger timely delivery of vote by mail ballots.

In August, in the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis and the Trump administration’s attempts to undercut the United States Postal Service (USPS), LaRose inexplicably banned county boards of elections from providing more than one ballot drop box for completed absentee ballots. He acted to ban additional secure drop boxes at the same time that absentee ballot applications were “pouring into Ohio’s boards of elections at an unprecedented rate.” In response, Brown, Kaptur, Beatty, Fudge, and Ryan urged him to reconsider his decision, explaining his clear authority to permit multiple drop boxes in each county. This authority was affirmed by the Franklin County Court’s recent ruling.

Full text of the letter sent can be found here and below:

 

October 13, 2020

The Honorable Frank LaRose

Secretary Of State

22 North Fourth Street, 16th Floor

Columbus, Ohio 43215

Dear Secretary LaRose:

When you were elected Secretary of State, the people of Ohio entrusted you with the sacred responsibility of administering Ohio’s elections. They placed faith in your commitment to run elections fairly, and to use your office’s full authority to ensure that every eligible Ohioan can vote freely. Hans Von Spakovsky, the nation’s foremost voter suppression advocate, was never on the ballot in Ohio. That is why we were troubled to learn that he has secretly had one hand on the wheel, steering Ohio’s election policy as you implement one of the most restrictive voting policy regimes in our state’s recent history, amidst a global pandemic.[1] Ohio sunshine laws were enacted specifically to ensure the public can understand the role and scope of outside influences on public policy decisions. In the spirit of transparency, and to protect the sanctity of the election, we call on you to set the record straight.

All Ohioans must be confident that – no matter how they vote – you and your office will take the steps necessary to ensure that all Ohioans are able to freely and fairly cast their ballots. We are concerned that Mr. Von Spakovsky’s influence over policy decisions coming from your office has undermined the confidence and trust Ohioans placed in your ability to fulfill your duties. In the interest of transparency, we write seeking specific information about the repeated contacts that you and your staff have had with Mr. Von Spakovsky and his associates, and any input they might have had into your decisions to: refuse to prepay postage for absentee ballots; ban more than one secure ballot drop box from being located in each county, and; defy recent court opinion ruling that continuing the ban would be “arbitrary and unreasonable.”

From his perch at the Heritage Foundation, Von Spakovsky, has spent years peddling widely debunked theories and pushing to impede Americans from exercising their right to vote.[2] He promotes fictitious voter fraud claims – assertions repudiated by scores of studies and courts of law – and uses them to justify proposals that would deny millions access to the ballot box. In Mr. Von Spakovsky’s long career searching for voter fraud, he never finds it, but along the way he leaves barriers to voting in his wake – particularly for Black and brown voters.  For him, vote suppression is a feature, not a flaw.

While not in any way exhaustive, Mr. Von Spakovsky’s voter suppression initiatives include:

·       Playing a key role in President Trump’s disbanded and discredited Presidential Advisory Commission on Electoral Integrity. In the Commission’s creation, he advocated that the Commission exclude Democrats and “mainstream Republicans”  stating that “[i]f they are picking mainstream Republican officials and/or academics to man this commission it will be an abject failure.”[3]

·       Running the Voter Integrity Project (V.I.P.) whose mission included purging voters from the roles.[4] Their dubious approach to voter purges resulted in Florida improperly purging thousands of voters – the vast majority of whom were African American and Democrats.

·       While a political appointee at the Department of Justice, Mr. Von Spakovsky was a one-man wrecking ball.

o   Overturning a unanimous staff recommendation to reject Texas’s redistricting plan, which staff argued clearly violated minority voting rights.[5]  Ultimately, the United States Supreme Court sided with career staff and ruled, in part, against the Texas redistricting plan.[6]

o   Overriding the advice of career DOJ staff and approving a Georgia voter identification law that was deemed by voting experts to be yet “a new form of a poll tax.”[7]

o   Arguing against the Voting Rights Act stating that it was no longer necessary as “the evidence very clearly showed it was no longer needed.”[8] Congress paid no heed to Mr. Von Spakovsky as it copiously detailed the Act’s necessity and then passed the updated Voting Rights Act with overwhelming, bipartisan support – including the support of every member of Ohio’s congressional delegation.[9]

o   Undermining the impartial administration of justice by purging DOJ career staff and seeking “to gerrymander all those crazy libs out of the [Voting] section” and replace them with “real Americans” and “right-thinking Americans” who could “be trusted.”[10]

·       Testifying in federal court to support Kansas’ discredited voter identification law.  The federal judge in the case, a George H. W. Bush nominee, noted that “[t]he lack of academic rigor in his [Von Spakovsky] report, in conjunction with his clear agenda and misleading statements, render his opinions unpersuasive.”[11]

·       Because of his extreme, partisan actions, six career DOJ officials publicly opposed his nomination to the Federal Election Commission as he was the “point person for undermining the Civil Rights Division’s mandate to protect voting rights.”[12] They further noted that he routinely took “partisan political factors into decision-making on enforcement matters and into the hiring process.”[13]

This is not a person who should be steering Ohio election policy. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer[14] you met with Von Spakovsky whose entire modus operandi runs counter to your professed desire to run an accessible and safe election as Ohio’s chief elections officer. In light of his dangerous history of purposefully disenfranchising voters, we would at a bare minimum expect you to take seriously the concerns of the citizens of Ohio that placed their trust in you.

We are outraged that, after a group of African American union members reached out to your office about voting during COVID-19, your staff immediately called and emailed Von Spakovsky. Why do you need Mr. Von Spakovsky to advise you how to respond to Ohioans?[15]  What advice did he provide? As of the date of this letter, have you replied to them?

Then this August, at a critical time in election season, you and your staff prioritized attending a voting rights briefing hosted by Von Spakovsky.  Press reports indicate,[16] that Von Spakovsky has been hosting partisan elections briefings like the one you attended[17] solely for Republican secretaries of state. We can presume that this briefings were not designed, nor did they discuss, how to ensure all eligible Ohioans – including persons of color and other minorities, can, as easily and safely as possible, exercise their franchise.

We need to know what, if any, of these false claims and the prescriptions he peddles, and whether they are playing a role in your decision-making.  To that end, we ask that you provide us with the following information regarding your collaboration and engagement with Hans Von Spakovsky and his associates. We respectfully request that you, the Secretary of State, promptly produce the following records within seven business days:

1)    All calendars or calendar entries, since July 1, 2020, for

a.     Secretary of State Frank LaRose,

b.     Deputy Secretary of State Grant Shaffer,

c.     Director of Elections and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mandi Grandjean, and

d.     anyone serving in a role next in authority to the Director of Elections (such as a Deputy Director of Elections or Assistant Director of Elections), including any calendars maintained on their behalf.

2)    All emails to or from Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Deputy Secretary of State Grant Shaffer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mandi Grandjean, or their schedulers sent to Hans Von Spakovsky or his staff at the Heritage Foundation.

3)    Did you or your staff discuss your conversations with Von Spakovsky with any other Executive Officials, or their staff, for the State of Ohio?[18]  If yes, please detail the dates, topics, and parties involved in these conversations.

4)    Please provide any notes, agendas, handouts, other materials that you, Mr. Shaffer, or any of your staff received from Mr. Von Spakovsky.

As the election quickly approaches, it is imperative that all Ohioans know that you are acting in a nonpartisan way to advocate for their voting rights and support eligible voters in exercising their right to vote safely and securely.  To that end, we ask that you provide us with answers to these questions within 7 calendar days of receipt of this letter.  Furthermore, we ask you that you and your staff, refrain from further meetings with Von Spakovsky or his team of vote suppressors as you conduct official business. We hope you will reconsider your apparent decision to conspire with someone whom civil rights icon and American hero John Lewis described this way:

I don’t know if it’s something in the water he’s been drinking . . . but over the years he’s been hellbent to make it more difficult—always, always—for people to vote. It’s like he goes to bed dreaming about this, and gets up in the morning wondering, What can I do today to make it more difficult for people to vote? When you pull back the covers, peel back the onion, he’s the one who’s gotten the Republican legislatures, and the Republican Party, to go along with this—even though there is no voter fraud to speak of. He’s trying to create a cure where there is no sickness.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

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