A lot at stake in down-ballot statewide Ohio races

While the governor’s job always gets lots of attention, down-ballot races for other Ohio statewide offices rarely draw much notice: secretary of state, state auditor, attorney general and state treasurer.

But this time two of the winning officials will sit on the seven-member redistricting commission that determines district lines for the General Assembly and U.S. Congress, and one of them — secretary of state — will also oversee security of Ohio’s elections. Both redistricting and election security are controversial topics nationwide.

Secretary of State

The secretary of state is Ohio’s chief elections officer, overseeing all elections in the state’s 88 counties and appointing members of each county’s board of elections. In that role, the secretary has substantial input on how initiatives and candidates appear on the ballot, trains election workers, maintains records of past elections and investigates allegations of voter fraud. The secretary’s office receives reports on all political contributions.

The secretary also has a prominent role in Ohio business, granting licenses and keeping business information such as ownership, trade names and some financial data. The office creates or retains other documents such as historic government records, licenses for ministers and notaries’ commissions.

Finally, the secretary has a seat on the Ohio Redistricting Commission, which is charged with drawing maps for state House and Senate and U.S. House districts.

Republican incumbent Secretary of State Frank LaRose is seeking a second four-year term. He grew up near Akron, joined the U.S. Army in 1998 and became a Green Beret. LaRose was elected to the Ohio Senate in 2010 and served until 2018, when he ran for secretary of state.

In the face of widespread Republican denial of the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, LaRose has walked the line on election security: casting some doubt on other states’ elections, but insisting Ohio’s balloting was and is secure. On Oct. 5 he announced creation of a Public Integrity Division to consolidate his office’s election security functions.

LaRose said he wants to push for less regulation on businesses. He has been the driving force behind Issue 2, the proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot to permanently bar noncitizens from voting in any local or state election in Ohio.

The Democratic nominee for secretary of state is Chelsea Clark. The Allen County native worked as a financial analyst and a teacher before founding the Cincinnati STEM Lab. She is on her second four-year term on Forest Park city council.

Clark said she supports expanded voting access and registration, improved cybersecurity and creation of an “office of entrepreneurship” as a one-stop shop for new small businesses.

The third name on the ballot for secretary of state is Terpsehore “Tore” Maras, a Cleveland conservative podcaster who sought to run as a Republican but will appear as an independent. She was kept off the Republican primary ballot by paperwork errors and failure to gather enough valid signatures for her candidacy, according to rulings from LaRose’s office and the Ohio Supreme Court. In late September the court cleared her to run as an independent.

Maras, who has denied 2020 presidential election results, says she wants to do away with voting machines and return to paper ballots for Ohio’s 8 million prospective voters. She also advocates providing free state ID cards and transparency in public and private business.

Auditor of State

The auditor serves as Ohio’s chief compliance officer, responsible for auditing all public officials and entities in the state. That includes more than 5,900 local government bodies, public schools and libraries. The office pursues accusations of fraud, provides performance audits, and offers other financial services. The auditor has a staff of more than 800.

The auditor too is a member of the redistricting commission.

The Democratic challenger for the job is Taylor Sappington, Nelsonville city auditor for the past two years, who promises to “balance the books, and when necessary, catch the crooks.” He assails Republican incumbent Keith Faber for lack of action in response to the FirstEnergy scandal surrounding House Bill 6. That 2019 legislation is at the center of a $61 million bribery case which led to the expulsion of the former Ohio house speaker and an ongoing federal criminal investigation.

Faber, of Celina, served in the Ohio House between 2001 and 2018, interrupted by service in the Ohio Senate from 2007 to 2016. For four years he was president of the Senate.

Now he’s seeking a second term as auditor. In his first term, he says, the auditor’s office has convicted more than 90 corrupt public officials, found more than $5 billion in unemployment fraud and overpayments, and found “hundreds of millions of dollars” in government inefficiency.

On the redistricting commission, Faber has voted several times against district maps drawn by fellow Republicans, the only Republican to break ranks — but not because he preferred Democratic proposals. In the most recent instance he said the Republican plan was too favorable to Democrats, despite the Ohio Supreme Court already ruling that it unfairly favored Republicans.

Attorney General

The attorney general is the state’s chief law officer. The AG’s office has about 1,500 employees in 10 offices throughout Ohio, including in Springfield; they’re divided into more than 30 sections focusing on different aspects of law. Those include antitrust enforcement, overseeing the state crime lab, civil rights, collection of debts to the state, crime victim services, employment, environmental investigations and more.

The office is probably best known to the public for prosecuting corruption and filing lawsuits on the state’s behalf. The attorney general also served sometimes as lawyer for the Ohio Redistricting Commission in seeking to defend maps passed by the commission’s Republican majority.

Republican incumbent Dave Yost, seeking a second term, has previously served as state auditor, Delaware County prosecutor and a Delaware city council member. He lives in Franklin County.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, Yost’s office immediately asked to dissolve the injunction that had blocked the 2019 “Heartbeat Bill” from going into effect. The request was swiftly granted.

The bill bans almost all abortions after five or six weeks’ gestation, before many women know they’re pregnant. A Hamilton County court again blocked the “Heartbeat Bill,” and Yost has appealed that injunction.

Yost endorsed the proposed constitutional amendment for “bail reform,” which he worked to get on the November ballot. The amendment, Issue 1, says that in setting bail courts must consider public safety, the person’s criminal record, the likelihood they’d flee, and seriousness of their offense.

Opponents of the measure, many of whom have sought bail reform for years, decry it as a political ploy to short-circuit real reform. They said the factors Issue 1 mandates are already considered in a separate process.

The Democratic candidate is state Rep. Jeff Crossman, D-Parma, who is on his second term in the Ohio House. Crossman, a former Parma city council member, says he strongly supports abortion rights, supports unions, and opposes “right to work” bills.

He was among the first to call for Householder’s expulsion and was a primary cosponsor of the resolution to do so. As a legislator, Crossman also demanded further investigation of FirstEnergy over the HB 6 scandal.

Treasurer of State

The treasurer is Ohio’s chief financial officer and banker, managing and investing state assets, keeping track of unclaimed property, and offering financial advice to the state.

The Democratic nominee is Scott Schertzer, former Marion city council member and mayor of Marion from 2008 to the present. He’s campaigning on “collaboration and cooperation” and a commitment to oppose public corruption.

The incumbent, seeking a second term, is Republican Robert Sprague. The Findlay resident has served as that city’s auditor and treasurer, and was in the Ohio House from 2011 to 2018.

Sprague’s office touts his ResultsOHIO program, repaying investors for successful social and public health programs; Family Forward, which offers low-interest loans to adoptive parents; and promotion of the STABLE program to help the disabled save and invest.

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