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Analysis: Proposed bill to protect Ohio election officials' privacy may not go far enough

a man with gray hair wearing a blue sweater and a face mask leans over a table with paper and small plastic boxes on it
Aaron Doster
A Hamilton County election department employee handles ballots during the general election at the Hamilton County Board of Elections, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Norwood, Ohio.

 The people who work full-time in Ohio's 88 county boards of elections could soon have a protection that police officers and firefighters in Ohio have had for many years.

The ability to keep their residential and family information from public view.

Senate Bill 173, introduced last week by Democratic State Sen. Bill DeMora of Columbus and Republican State Sen. Theresa Gavarone of Bowling Green, would include election workers on the state's list of public service workers who can ask that their personal information be redacted from public records.

It does not, though, include a set of part-time election workers who volunteer to work in polling places on Election Day for little pay; and are the people on the front lines to make elections work smoothly and fairly.

Given the super-heated political atmosphere in this country now — with election deniers running rampant and where threats to people who run elections have become commonplace around the county — it’s a safe bet that many people who run elections in Ohio would choose privacy.

RELATED: Here are the new ID requirements for voting in Ohio

"These things are happening more and more around the country,'' DeMora told WVXU. "Mostly it is coming from MAGA idiots, but sometimes from the left as well.

"I know that boards of elections around Ohio get angry calls all the time from people saying you have stolen an election," DeMora said.

Gavarone, who often carries election-related legislation on the Republican side of the aisle, said in a written statement that "election officials are the backbone of our electoral process."

"Unfortunately, we live in a politically charged world and bad actors, regardless of political party, have been known to lash out at these workers who are only interested in helping ensure our elections run smoothly," Gavarone wrote. "Senate Bill 173 will keep them and their families safe while they work to maintain Ohio's reputation for running the most secure elections in the country."

If Senate Bill 173 becomes law, full-time employees of boards of elections would join several other classes of protected workers, including:

  • Police officers
  • Firefighters
  • Designated Ohio national guard members
  • Protective services workers
  • Emergency service telecommunicators
  • Forensic mental health providers
  • Mental health evaluation providers
  • Regional psychiatric hospital employees

DeMora said elections officials would not be required to keep their personal information private. It is up to each employee. And they would do it on a form that is available on the Ohio attorney general's website.

RELATED: Your guide to voting in Ohio's November 2023 election

Hamilton County Elections Director Sherry Poland is president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials. She said Monday the association wasn't aware of the DeMora-Gavarone legislation but that the association's lawyers would take a look at it.

"The topic came up at our annual meeting last year, but we did not take a formal position," Poland said. "About half of the people were in favor of some kind of protection and about half said it wasn't necessary. There was no consensus."

"Only the trustees of the association can take a position on legislation,'' she said.

The good news is there have been no incidents of violence against election workers in Ohio — at least none that have been reported. We hope it stays that way.

The hole in the doughnut of Senate Bill 173 is that it offers no protection for those Election Day volunteers who work inside polling places.

The nation found out what can happen when two of those inside poll workers in Georgia — Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Shaye Moss — were harassed by no less than Donald Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who made false claims that the two women conspired to change the vote count in an Atlanta polling place in Nov. 2020.

The two women sued Giuliani. In August, the judge in the case found that Giuliani was liable for defaming Freeman and Moss. Soon, a trial will be held to determine what damages, if any, should be awarded to the two women — both of whom testified under oath about the harassment before the congressional committee investigation of the Jan. 6, 2020 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

ANALYSIS: What Michigan can teach Ohio about redistricting

DeMora acknowledged that the legislature might have to re-visit the idea of protections for inside poll workers.

"Every polling site in Ohio should be secure," DeMora said.

DeMora said Senate Bill 173 would be more of a safeguard for election officials in Ohio's large urban counties than in the vastly smaller rural counties.

"There are only a handful of employees at, for example, the Highland County Board of Elections," DeMora said. "Everybody in Hillsboro knows them. If you are in a small town, everybody knows everybody.

"That's not the case in the big counties," he said. "People working for those boards may want more privacy. That's what we want to give them. But only if that is what they want."

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.