LaRose discusses voting, Israeli relations during Jewish media briefing

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose talks to Jewish media and community leaders as part of a virtual event Sept. 21, organized by Howie Beigelman, executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities, and moderated by Kevin S. Adelstein, publisher and CEO of the Cleveland and Columbus Jewish News and president of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company. 

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose discussed the Nov. 3 general election in regard to poll workers, safety and different voting methods to encourage a healthy state turnout during a virtual Jewish media briefing Sept. 21.

The event was organized by Howie Beigelman, executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities in Columbus, and was moderated by Kevin S. Adelstein, publisher and CEO of the Cleveland Jewish News and the Columbus Jewish News and president of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company.

LaRose, who came into office in 2019, informed the 18 reporters and select community leaders in attendance of his office’s efforts to make voting safe and easy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“‘Ready for November’ ... has been our theme, really, since I came into this office a year-and-a-half ago,” LaRose said. “Obviously, it took on a new flavor in early March when all of us started learning about how to live through a pandemic and had to figure out how to face some of these new challenges as it related to running elections.”

For example, LaRose and his office have produced five programs to help bring in additional poll workers to Ohio’s polling locations, he said. The Youth at the Booth program contacts high schools state-wide to encourage 17-year-old students to work at the polls. The Give a Day for Democracy program urges companies, nonprofit organizations and government entities to give their employees a day off work to be poll workers.

The Second Call to Duty program is for veterans to continue their oath to protect their country even out of uniform. The Work a Day Donate Your Pay program is where nonprofit organization members work at the polls, and then donate their day’s pay to their organization as a fundraiser.

The Professional Licensure program is where certain groups, including lawyers, accountants and Realtors, are offering continuing education credits to those who sign up to be poll workers.

“(The five programs are) starting to work,” LaRose said. “It takes a bare minimum of 37,000 poll workers to open the polls on Election Day in Ohio, just to open the 4,000 polling locations that are scattered throughout the state. These are all bipartisan teams. ... We don’t want to have the bare minimum in a year where we’re worried that people might call off or not want to show up for work, so we’re telling our boards of elections to recruit 150% their normal allocation of poll workers. Really the goal that we’re shooting for is 55,000 poll workers statewide in Ohio – that’s a huge mobilization of people.”

To guarantee the polls and early voting locations are safe, LaRose said he has worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Ohio Department of Health to create a 48-point checklist of safety protocols.

Each polling location will enforce voters and poll workers to wear masks and practice social distancing. Hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment will be available at the locations.

“If you’re comfortable going to the grocery store, ...then you should be comfortable coming to your polling location, because all of the same procedures are being put in place, and then some, to make it safe,” LaRose said.

LaRose and his office have also urged Ohioans to take advantage of early and absentee voting processes, he said.

“The more people that vote absentee and the more people that vote early, the fewer that we have to serve on Election Day,” LaRose said. “What we want to do is minimize any existence of lines; we want to minimize any crowding or chaotic environments with lots of people at polling locations. When Ohioans show up in record numbers for early voting and when Ohioans take advantage in record numbers of absentee voting, that’ll help take the pressure off of Election Day.”

LaRose said 7.8 million registered-to-vote Ohioans received absentee ballot request forms from his office, and 1.4 million Ohioans – a number that increases every week – have requested absentee ballots.

No matter how Ohioans choose to vote, LaRose urged the most important thing is for Ohioans to follow through and vote.

“You’ve got three good options; instead of dwelling on this, what I’m asking people to do is just choose which one of those they’re most comfortable with – voting by mail, voting early or voting in-person on Election Day,” LaRose said. “Just choose which one you want to do and then carry out your plan. There’s no bad choice among them; they’re all good choices.”

LaRose also spoke about his third visit to Israel with Beigelman weeks before the pandemic to discuss cybersecurity with the Central Elections Commission. During the visit, LaRose presented the cybersecurity work Ohio was doing in preparation for the election, and he also learned of what Israel and other nations were doing.

LaRose said he could see a future of further cooperation between Ohio and Israel – one that goes beyond elections and cybersecurity.

Adelstein probed the secretary on what more can be done to help Jewish and other communities at risk of hate crime or attacks, referencing the protests lobbied at the home of Dr. Amy Acton, former director of Ohio Health Department.

To combat anti-Semitism and any acts of racism, LaRose believes the acts must be brought to attention every time.

“As soon as anti-Semitism rears its ugly head, we need to call it out,” LaRose said. “But it’s more than talking, it’s action, as well.

“During the time I was in the legislature, we worked on security upgrades and funding for security issues. I helped get the bill done in Ohio to deal with the BDS (boycott, sanctions and divestment) movement, and to make it clear what our stance as the state is on that ... These are things that we have to be very plain spoken about – that hate has no place in Ohio.”

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