MANSFIELD -- Frank LaRose said Monday he is doing what Ohio law requires of its Secretary of State in maintaining an accurate active voter roll.
That's why LaRose, the state's chief elections officer, is comfortable his office is taking the proper steps to remove more than 200,000 names of Ohio residents who have not participated in an election for at least the last six years.
The move was challenged in U.S. District Court by the Ohio Democratic Party, which unsuccessfully sought a temporary restraining effort after journalists and other groups found local boards of election had mistakenly flagged active voters scheduled to be removed.
Judge James Graham issued the ruling, saying the ODP was unlikely to win the case and would not suffer the "irreparable injury" needed for a temporary restraining order.
"The evidence does not establish that (LaRose) is implementing measures which render the voting system fundamentally unfair," Graham said in his 10-page decision. "The occurrence of a past problem with the list does not prove the existence of a current one. More importantly, the secretary has shown in both instances that he restored those registrants who were eligible to vote to the voter file."
Joe Mudra, who leads the Richland County Democratic Party, said Monday he is still concerned about the effort.
"I am particularly concerned with all the errors being discovered on this purge list by journalist and advocacy groups," Mudra said. "I support the call for an independent audit of the list prior to exercising the purge -- no eligible voter should, by no fault of their own, be eliminated from the voter's list because of a governmental error."
LaRose, in Mansfield to speak during the Richland County Republican Party monthly luncheon, said he doesn't like to use word "purge" when it comes to updating voter rolls.
"I don't use that term. It has a very negative connotation to it. I am a history nerd. When you go back to the Russia revolution, when they would take non-compliant citizens out and execute them in the countryside, it was called a purge. There was a horror movie by that name," the 40-year-old LaRose said.
"What we are doing is carrying out the law exactly as it's required."
LaRose took office in January after serving eight years in the Ohio Senate.
"On Friday, I sent directives to 88 county Boards of Election that told them to go ahead and process the removals, subject to Ohio law."
LaRose said the effort to clean up voter rolls is spelled out clearly in the law.
"It doesn't give me discretion to decide if I want to do it or not. It says the Secretary of State shall direct election boards to remove those abandoned registrations," he said.
A list of 235,000 statewide names was compiled from information submitted by the 88 county elections boards. The secretary of state's office published the list of names in an online searchable data base in August.
LaRose said his office launched something he titled "Registration Reset" in attempt to contact people whose names were on the list. LaRose said he found his uncle's name on the list and contacted him to update his voting status.
"We knew the vast majority of those (names) were not people ... not voters out there just waiting. In most cases, it's just out-of-date data ... it's deceased voters, it's duplicates, it's someone who moved and registered at a new address," he said.
"We also knew there were some on the list who may have become disenchanted and just sat out the last 12 elections. We wanted to put together an unprecedented effort to reach out and find them."
LaRose, who served 10 years with U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division and 19th Special Forces Group (earning a Bronze star in Iraq) before entering politics, said his officer worked with more than 20 groups on the "reset" effort, including the League of Women Voters, NAACP, labor unions and the Urban League.
He said the effort identified more than 12,000 residents on the list who wanted to remain active. LaRose said that journalists and others found mistakes were a positive.
"By making it public, by making it transparent, we knew there was room for mistake or human error and we wanted to catch it before we processed these removals," he said.
"When the Ohio Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against me, I get this is going to happen, we're going to have lawsuits. I don't think we need to rush to the courthouse every time. More often than not, we can work things out together," LaRose said.
"(But) some of the things they were saying on social media and other places were really just fear-mongering, just scaring people. I can take it. That's what happens when you're the person in charge. The really negative thing is it makes the average person who hears this stuff less likely to participate.
"It has a chilling affect on voter turnout because people say, 'It's all rigged ... why would I want to do it?' That is dangerous and that kinds of playing politics too far," LaRose said.
LaRose said voters who show up to vote on Nov. 5 and find their name is no longer listed will still be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. Those provisional ballots will be reviewed by each county's elections board.