COLUMBUS, Ohio —
Ohio’s Republican elections chief on Wednesday announced a new public integrity unit in response to what he called Americans’ “crisis of confidence” in the electoral process, even while maintaining that the state has a reputation for secure voting.
Beginning next week, the unit will consolidate and highlight his office’s investigative work and eventually have one or more dedicated investigator, Secretary of State Frank LaRose said in a statement. Those investigators won’t start until after November’s general election, however.
LaRose, a Republican, referenced a growing national trend “that indicates a crisis of confidence in the electoral process.”
That crisis is largely a concern of Republican voters, stemming from lies told by former President Trump about supposed election fraud causing his 2020 loss to Democratic rival Joe Biden.
Numerous federal, state and local election officials in both parties, a long list of courts, top former campaign staffers and even Trump’s own attorney general have all said there is no evidence of the election fraud the former president alleges.
LaRose initially said the 2020 election was secure and accurate, but as the spring primary neared — which LaRose won, defeating a 2020 election skeptic — he began to echo some of Trump’s talking points.
LaRose said there were problems in other states and touted his office’s work to combat voter fraud. Trump endorsed LaRose, a longtime supporter.
LaRose said his new division will help his office more efficiently and thoroughly do work it already does, such as voting system certification and investigation of alleged election law violations, including a team dedicated at looking into rare cases of voter fraud or suppression and campaign finance violations, said LaRose, who is seeking a second term in November.
“Our elections are being scrutinized like never before, and any lack of absolute confidence in the accuracy and honesty of those elections weakens the very foundation of our democracy,” LaRose said in a statement.
He also referred to what he said was Ohio’s “strong national reputation for secure, accurate, and accessible elections.”
LaRose’s announcement follows a decision in Florida in which lawmakers and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis created a police force dedicated to pursuing allegations of voter fraud and other election crimes.
Democrats called LaRose’s news a waste of taxpayer dollars aimed at bolstering his political aspirations. LaRose is often mentioned as a possible 2024 U.S. Senate candidate.
LaRose identified a single case of possible illegal voting earlier this year, making the new office “a taxpayer-funded solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Ohio Democratic Party spokesperson Matt Keyes.
Chelsea Clark, LaRose’s Democratic opponent, questioned the timing of the announcement and noted LaRose’s efforts to keep his other opponent, independent candidate Terpsehore “Tore” Maras, off the ballot. Clark called out LaRose for a “history of politicizing these investigations to punish opponents.”
Maras is a conservative podcaster who embraces Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.
In August, LaRose’s office had upheld a judge’s decision that a number of Maras’ petition signatures were invalid, and invalidated her candidacy. But last month, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled her eligible to run for Ohio secretary of state this fall.
Maras dismissed LaRose’s moves as preelection posturing.
If elected, Maras said, she wouldn’t need such a unit, because “everyone employed in our office already has some delegated part in ensuring each Ohioan has a single secure vote that is properly counted — nothing more and nothing less.”
Associated Press Writer Kantele Franko in Columbus contributed to this report.