By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
A veteran in Kathleen Clyde’s district was denied the right to vote after his name was purged from the voting rolls.
For Clyde, defending the rights of all Ohio voters is the utmost concern as she runs for Secretary of State.
Clyde, a four-term Democratic state representative from Kent, stopped by Bowling Green State University and Stone’s Throw pub on Wednesday to pitch her campaign.
“I am very passionate about the idea of bringing fair, secure and accessible elections to our state,” she said.
“There have been a lot of partisan attacks on the right to vote,” Clyde said. “We’ve got to see those partisan attacks end.”
The secretary of state seat is wide open since the current holder, Jon Husted, is running for lieutenant governor on Republican Mike DeWine’s ticket for governor.
Clyde is running against Republican Frank LaRose, a state senator from Hudson; Libertarian Dustin Nanna; and write-in candidate Michael Bradley.
Clyde pointed at gerrymandering and voter purging efforts in Ohio as proof of problems.
“We need everyone’s voice to be heard in a democracy,” she said.
“I have been an opponent of the secretary of state’s efforts to purge thousands of people from the rolls,” Clyde said. Though she sees the rationale of removing people from the rolls who are deceased or who have moved, Clyde doesn’t support the current system that has resulted in many citizens being wrongly removed from voting rolls.
One such voter was Larry Harmon, a resident of Clyde’s district. Harmon, a veteran, showed up at the polls in 2015 and was told he couldn’t vote.
“This veteran was turned away at the polls,” she said.
A little bit closer to Wood County, the mayor of Oak Harbor, Joe Helle, was denied his right to vote after he returned from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“He found out when he went to vote after coming home,” Clyde said. “It needs to stop.”
Ohio election officials send notices to anyone who fails to cast a ballot during a two-year period. People who do not respond and don’t vote over the next four years, including in two more federal elections, are dropped from the list of registered voters.
Initial court rulings on the voter purge process favored the citizens.
A federal appeals court ruled against the state, concluding that roughly 7,500 Ohio voters — in a state that’s a presidential battleground — were wrongly purged from the list in the 2016 election.
Opponents of Ohio’s system said it violated the National Voter Registration Act, which states that voters can be purged from the rolls only if they ask, move, are convicted of a felony, become mentally incapacitated, or die. More than half the voters in Ohio fail to cast a ballot over a two-year period, and many who receive the state’s notices simply throw them away.
But at its next step up the judicial ladder, conservatives on the Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s strict method of removing infrequent voters from the rolls, a process that challengers of the law say disproportionately affects poor and minority voters.
In the past, the Justice Department has opposed Ohio’s process as inconsistent with federal law. But the department switched its position after President Trump was elected.
But Clyde pointed out that while the court ruled the process was not illegal – it also ruled that it was not required. That means the purging process can be dropped if the new secretary of state chooses to do so.
Federal law prohibits removing voters simply because they failed to vote. But it also calls on states to keep accurate rolls and allows them to come up with their own systems for removing voters believed to have moved or died.
Clyde does not believe voter fraud is a problem in Ohio, and she has praised Husted for sharing that voter fraud is almost non-existent in the state.
“We take protecting the integrity of our voting very seriously,” she said.
Clyde said her profession as an attorney specializing in election issues has prepared her for the position – as has her experience working on bipartisan efforts in a “swing district.”
“It’s good experience to draw from,” she said. “I’ve always had to work across the aisle to get work done.”
Clyde said she is also committed to providing good service to new businesses setting up shop in Ohio – with the first step requiring paperwork filed at the secretary of state’s office.
“I also care deeply about small business growth in the state,” she said. “We want to be a welcome front door. It’s an opportunity to help businesses along – make it more streamline.”