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Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted Outlines Priorities During Ohio Association of Election Officials Conference

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted Outlines Priorities During Ohio Association of Election Officials Conference

COLUMBUS – Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted today provided details on some of his priorities for the start of 2015 and his second term as Ohio’s 53rd Secretary of State. Secretary Husted delivered the keynote address at the opening session of the Ohio Association of Election Officials (OAEO) Winter Conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Columbus, Ohio.

During his remarks, Secretary Husted commended local elections officials on their ability to work across party lines on what they have achieved together over the last four years: “I believe the strong working relationships we've built, and you've built with each other, serve as an example to the people of Ohio that Democrats and Republicans can work together. Our bipartisanship elevates the cause of public service and puts the enduring principle of democracy ahead of self-service and the political interests of the day,” Secretary Husted said.

Some of the priorities outlined by Secretary Husted include delivering another well-run Presidential Election in 2016, allowing for tracking of absentee ballots by all voters and maintaining aging voting equipment. Secretary Husted will also continue to push for legislative action regarding online voter registration.

Secretary Husted also announced today that the first directive of 2015, Directive 2015-01, will require boards of elections to conduct a review of voting irregularities reported in the 2014 General Election.

Video from today’s event is available here and a copy of Secretary Husted’s comments has been included below.

As a reminder, on Friday, January 16, 2015, Secretary Husted will present several awards to elections officials and swear in new officers for the OAEO. This event is open to the media and will take place at 9:00 am at the Hyatt Regency Union Ballroom, located at 350 North High Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215.

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For more information, please contact Matt McClellan at 614-995-2168.

 

Ohio Association of Elections Officials
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s Remarks
Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Introduction
Good morning, I presume all of you Buckeye football fans are still basking in the glory of victory.

I have a little extra victory to share with you. You see the Oregon Secretary of State, Kate Brown, is also the President this year of the National Association of Secretaries of State.  I made a little bet with her that if the Buckeyes won, she would have to wear a Buckeye shirt at the National Conference in Washington DC this February, and if the Ducks won, I would do the same. I feel a little bad about it, because Kate is a very nice person, but I'll get over it.

Well let's just say I am going to enjoy the conference this year more than she is, and I may just leave a candy Buckeye on her desert plate at every meal too.

A New Beginning
Earlier this week I was honored to be sworn in for another term as Ohio Secretary of State.

Some of you were able to make it to the ceremony. Thank you for taking time to do so.

It was a great opportunity to express my gratitude for all of the great things so many people, and many of you, have done to support my successes.

I was able share the happiness I feel and the rewarding moments I have experienced as part of my public service.

I also conveyed the sense of responsibility I feel from having the most important elected Secretary of State job in the country.

And I also tried to build hope and share the optimism I have that through perseverance we can change the future, that the things that seem impossible are possible, and that our work can make a difference in people's lives.

Inauguration Day was a day of celebration, but today we begin to turn our focus toward the work that lies ahead.

First let me share some perspective with you.

For me, this election was a validation of the hard work we have done together over the past four years to fulfill the aspiration to make it "easy to vote and hard to cheat."

I hope that you are all as proud as I am that we’ve had four solid years of well-run elections. You should be; you made it happen.

In fact, Ohio has one of the best elections systems in the nation. That’s because in Ohio, we don’t sit idle. To us, good is never good enough. We are constantly trying to improve.

Legendary NBA Coach Pat Riley said: “Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to be better.”  It’s true in sports, true in life and true in our profession.

I am sure this is what Urban Meyer is already challenging his team to do. When you succeed, future success becomes an expectation. But it can also lead to overconfidence and complacency. Winners know that you must always challenge yourself to get better.

But in our pursuit of excellence, it is also important to take a moment to reflect on the successes we've enjoyed together.

Progress Over Four Years
Just look at the progress we have made:

  • Four years ago, the statewide voter database only had complete records for 20 percent of voters. Thanks to our partnership with the BMV and using technology to better share data, we are up to 90 percent.
  • We’ve removed 358,000 deceased voters from the rolls. And thanks to your diligence we’ve had zero duplicate registrations to contend with in your poll books on Election Day.
  • This increased level of accuracy allowed us to build and implement an online change of address system that nearly 195,000 Ohioans have now used. That means those voters didn’t have to vote a provisional ballot.
  • We are now mailing voters who have moved on an annual basis. Though this means more work on the front-end, it also means more accurate voting rolls and a smoother Election Day.
  • In fact, based on our analysis of the 2014 provisional voting data you sent us, as compared to the last gubernatorial election year, the rate of provisional voting has gone down and the rate of counted ballots have gone up. We are definitely heading in the right direction!
  • We are proud to be a “Gold Star” state when it comes to military voting as well as our work to ensure we get military and overseas ballots out 45 days prior to Election Day.
  • We mailed absentee ballot applications to all registered voters in 2012 and 2014.  Other than the states that conduct elections entirely by mail, I know of no other state offering this level of service to its voters. 
  • Though we have and will continue to have a generous in-person early voting schedule, vote by mail numbers are on the rise as more and more Ohio voters learn that they can cast their ballots without ever leaving home. We will ask the General Assembly to fund these successful mailings once again in 2016.

The progress we have made is even more pronounced when you compare Ohio to other states, as the PEW Center for the States does following every federal election. 

Earlier this year, PEW released its elections performance rankings. Ohio made one of the largest improvements between the 2008 and 2012 elections, moving up 13 places. In fact, Ohio was one of only a dozen states to increase its average by such margins. 

That’s what happens when your wait times for voters are down; your absentee voting is up; when you are counting more ballots; when your data is more accurate; and when you are more prepared.

But even with all we have accomplished, we have to push for further improvement. 

Ready for 2016
There are at least three, and for many of you, as many as seven elections to run before the 2016 Presidential Election.

We need to begin today to prepare for the important job we have as elections officials in the most important swing state in the nation. 

If you thought we were a major focus in 2008 and 2012 – just wait until 2016! Depending on who runs for President we’ve got potentially competitive primaries. 

The Republican Convention is coming to Cleveland and there’s a good chance the Democratic Convention comes to Columbus. As a result, Ohio elections will face increased scrutiny and we must be ready to meet it.

In-Person Early Voting Hours
When it comes to in-person early voting, the schedule for days and hours for the 2015 and 2016 elections should be familiar to you as it is based upon your recommendations.

This includes the extended evening and weekend hours we agreed will be necessary to serve the increased number of voters who will come out for the Presidential Election.

So the next time you think you’re not having an impact on elections or that nobody is listening, remember it was your bipartisan recommendations we followed and that have been debated all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Since the 2012 Presidential Election, we have been served well by a uniform statewide voting schedule advanced by the Democrats and Republicans that make up the leadership of this bipartisan organization.

(Barring any changes from courts or the General Assembly) It should provide a sense of comfort and confidence that you and the voters of Ohio already know what the schedule and rules are for all elections moving forward and that all voters no matter where they live will be treated equally. 

Improve Services at Local Boards
During this time, I challenge you to take a hard look at your individual boards and work to further improve services. 

If there was a day or place you had long lines, then take action to make sure it doesn't happen again. Solutions may include the purchase of more voting machines, hiring more people, changing locations, or deploying more resources.

At the state level, we’ll support you and continue our efforts to modernize our system of elections.

It should come as no surprise
I once again have a list of priorities for legislative and administrative reform. Some of them will not be new, some may catch you by surprise, but I hope not. Remember this is all in the pursuit of excellence and if we are not moving ahead we are falling behind.

Online Voter Registration
We must continue to push for full online voter registration in this General Assembly. 

According to the research conducted at the PEW Center for the States, half of all voters in the United States now have access to online voter registration. It is one area of elections administration where Ohio is behind.

In fact, based upon PEW’s methodology, we estimate that had the General Assembly passed online voter registration as I have long been advocating, Ohio would have been in the top 10 for elections administration.

This is not only because of the points we’d earn for having a convenient system in place for voters to use, but also because as PEW and the Presidential Commission on Elections Administration reports have pointed out:

Online voter registration facilitates better voter rolls, which helps to decrease wait times at the polls, improves security, ensures fewer provisional ballots, and reduces the number of unreturned ballots. With less data entry and fewer errors, it also saves you money.

It’s just common sense. This is a law-and-order government. This is customer-service government. This saves money for the taxpayers. This is reform and modernization.

It is what those of us who run for public office say that we are for and now it's time to do it.

It’s time for online voter registration in Ohio and I hope you will continue to ask your representatives and senators in the General Assembly to pass it as soon as possible.

Absentee Ballot Tracking
Additionally, with the increasing popularity of our vote-by-mail program, we should also take steps to make sure we do what we can to build confidence in the system. 

A major step in this direction is to do for all voters what we already do for military voters and that is to ensure all Ohio voters can track their absentee ballots online. 

This will further increase voters’ confidence in casting ballots by mail and in Ohio elections overall. 

We will need your help to make sure this is ready to go in every county by the primary election of 2016.

Voting Machines
As we look for more ways the latest technology can improve elections, it’s also important that we address the needs we have in maintaining our existing technology.

Our voting machines are aging. While some counties have replaced their systems, most others are worrying about where they will ever find the money now that the federal funds that brought us electronic voting machines does not exist for the next generation of machines and upgrades.

This is an issue we must keep at the forefront when we talk to those who budget at the federal, state and county level. Since none of us in this room are appropriators, we need to work to educate the people in our system who are, so they can have a full appreciation for the administrative and budgetary challenges that lay on the horizon. 

In the meantime, however, it is incumbent upon every board member, director and deputy director to commit to maintaining their equipment to the highest possible standards.  This includes following all maintenance schedules provided by your vendors, and upgrading the IT systems that you can ––ensuring that all Election Day voting equipment is in good working order prior to each election.

Voter Fraud/ Suppression/Non-Citizen
To ensure continued voter confidence in our elections, we must also remain vigilant against any allegations of voter fraud and voter suppression. 

You conducted the first-ever statewide report on these issues in 2012 ... and found zero cases of suppression.

And when it came to voter fraud, we found that it exists, but it’s rare and that when we find it, violators will be held accountable.

We have and will continue to take steps to improve our system so we can prevent fraud in the future.

Soon I will be sending you a directive to conduct another review of any voting irregularities reported to you in the 2014 General Election.

Hamilton County has already started this process. Many of you may have seen the story in the Cincinnati Enquirer earlier this week, which talks about 26 voters who cast more than one ballot. 

Though the headline (no surprise) was about double voting, the most important part of that story is that while they may have voted twice, only one vote was counted for each of the voters, that the system worked as it should, and that the board of elections was on top of it. 

This is what the election security directive is all about. In Ohio, we don’t discount voting irregularities out-of-hand. We also don’t overreact. We look into them so we can deal in the facts, not the rhetoric.

As we did previously, we will collect and share this data with the public and media in our continued effort to educate and share the good news that voter fraud and voter suppression are indeed rare, but that we also remain ever vigilant in pursuit of our goal to make sure it never happens in Ohio.

To this end, I want to acknowledge that through our partnership with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, we were able to address another frequently misinformed discussion concerning non-citizens on the voter rolls. 

In 2012, we found that 291 non-citizens were registered to vote and 17 of them had cast ballots in the Presidential Election. The 17 we referred for prosecution and the other 274 were sent letters to cancel their voter registrations.

This is another example of how we continue to be vigilant to ensure that only eligible voters may register and vote in Ohio. 

There will be more to come which we will announce in the coming weeks. But for now we believe this is an ambitious but very achievable to-do list before the 2016 General Election. 

I hope you will take pride in the fact that we've done a lot together, and that you'll also join me in continuing the fight for the reforms that remain to be accomplished.

We owe it to the people of Ohio to continue to strive for excellence.

I want to close with a story that I hope will make my point that you cannot quit and that perseverance pays off:

If you were at my inauguration on Monday, this will be a little repetitive to you, but I want to make sure I share it with everyone in this room.

For the past 10 years I have been working to change something in our political system. 

I had some moments of success along the way but ultimately every year we came up short of our goal. 

The issue I'm speaking of, of course, is redistricting reform. 

As you know the current way we draw legislative districts allows for gerrymandered, non-competitive elections to determine who serves us in the legislative branch of government. (You should know this as I have spoken about it at every winter and summer conference since I was elected SOS as one of our legislative priorities).

For years I held votes (when I was Speaker of the House) sponsored resolutions (including the first resolution in recent history to pass the Senate or either chamber in the legislature) spoke at public events, on the radio, on TV, with newspapers and through social media about the need to end the system of gerrymandering I believed was undermining democracy. 

There was rarely a week I didn't try to do something to advance the issue in some way. (But years would pass by and our efforts came up short).

Many of my friends would listen politely as I lamented the need for change, but I also knew many of them thought it was a lost cause, maybe even a waste of my time. 

I know of one particular conversation where it was suggested that I stop talking about it, because there was no way we could ever get Republican and Democrats to come together and I was going to look like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. (Did I mention, these were my friends, I won't even begin to describe what my detractors would say.)

But I believed differently, first because whether I won or lost, I believed it was the right thing to do. 

And secondly, I knew when I discussed the issue with people across the state, they wanted it to change too. 

I never lost hope and I tried to build hope and support for change.

After time, support grew across the political spectrum, others took up leadership roles and offered ideas and soon even some of the detractors were beginning to swim with the current for reform.

And finally late last year the legislature passed a resolution ending the old partisan system and will offer to the voters this November a new, bipartisan system of reform. (Which I hope you will vote for)!

I share this story because I want you to always keep the hope that you can change things for the better, even when it seems the odds are long or even impossible.

Meaningful change does not come easily, nothing worthwhile in life ever does. But with patience and persistence, we can make good things happen.

Our system of democracy and self-government depends on this hope and the perseverance of a few to overcome the obstacles to build the support from the many.

But for today, I want you to know that I am grateful for the gift of public service and the partnership I have built with you. 

I believe the strong working relationships we've built, and you've built with each other, serve as an example to the people of Ohio that Democrats and Republicans can work together. Our bipartisanship elevates the cause of public service and puts the enduring principle of democracy ahead of self-service and the political interests of the day.

This is my aspiration for all of us as I begin a new term of service as Ohio’s 53rd Secretary of State.

Thank you and may God Bless you all and the people of Ohio.

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