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Black lawmakers urge LaRose to do more as pandemic continues

Reps question beer tour, spending plan for $23 million in federal funds
August 12, 2020
Democrat Newsroom

State Representative Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo) and Catherine D. Ingram (D-Cincinnati) today sent a letter to Secretary of State Frank LaRose raising concerns about the treatment of Black voters who are being disproportionately harmed by the coronavirus pandemic. The lawmakers requested the secretary’s voter outreach plan, noting that he has undertaken an Ohio craft brewery tour without specific legal authority or funding to do so. They also requested his budget for using the $23 million in federal funds granted to the state and approved by the Controlling Board for spending on the election. 

See the letter below:

August 12, 2020

Dear Secretary LaRose,

We are troubled that each day a new challenge arises that could make voting harder for Ohioans, especially Black Ohioans, and your office still has failed to take bold action. We are writing to you specifically on the needs and concerns of Black voters. Black Ohioans are being hit hardest by the coronavirus with much higher death rates and the severest cases of Covid-19. We need you to address these particular impacts on the Black community.

You claim to lack authority to take action to help the Black Ohioans we represent. Meanwhile, you have found authority to again purge infrequent voters, something that’s not required but merely permitted under state law. You’ve found authority to do a state tour of craft breweries to do voter outreach to the IPA demographic, but we never passed a law authorizing or funding this road trip. 

Where did you get the authority and the funding to do your purges of infrequent voters? Where did you get the authority and the funding to do your craft brewery tour? Petty cash?

We have asked you to install multiple secure dropboxes so voters may confidently deliver their ballots back to their local officials without three trips through the mail. You’ve said you can’t do it - even though boards of elections have used drop boxes for years. You kicked it over to Attorney General Yost and he has been silent on it for three weeks now. 

We have asked you to pay return postage for paper ballot applications and absentee ballots. You’ve said you can’t do it even with federal CARES Act dollars granted to Ohio and already approved by the Controlling Board for such a purpose.

We have asked you to facilitate online application for absentee ballots. You've said you can't do it even though the law does not specify that applications must be by mail only. Many of our constituents have canceled their Internet service after suffering job loss and a hit to their household budgets. But this online option would still benefit everyone by reducing mailed paper applications and relieving pressure on the Postal Service and election officials.

We would like to see a breakdown of how you are spending the over $23 million the federal government has granted to Ohio and the Controlling Board has approved in recent months. Show us your budget and we will show you your priorities. From where we stand it does not look like you are prioritizing the needs and the safety of Black voters in our districts. 

We would also like to see a breakdown of where you are spending your office's resources on outreach. We love our craft breweries in Toledo and Cincinnati, but we also love our barber shops, salons, restaurants and other Black-owned businesses and we don’t see you there with TV cameras and custom voter outreach designs. 

We have to have clear and honest talk that names the problem and doesn't dance around it. Black voters are being more severely impacted by Covid-19. We need policies and action, in our elections and in all spheres, that take this harm to Black Ohioans seriously and bring real solutions, not just happy talk. 

You can send the information we've requested to our offices at Rep44@ohiohouse.gov and Rep32@ohiohouse.gov. We would appreciate a quick response. 

Sincerely,

Paula Hicks-Hudson, State Representative, House District 44

Catherine D. Ingram, State Representative, House District 32