ST. CLAIRSVILLE The GOP was looking to 2014 during the annual Republican Holiday Dinner.
Jon Husted, the 53rd secretary of state for Ohio, spoke at the event, beginning by sharing Christmas greetings and relating some of Ohio's contributions to the holidays within the state and on a national level.
Husted then spoke about the particular importance of the upcoming election, which is overseen by his office. He added that 33 US senators will be elected, along with statewide elections.
Husted related the work of his office in preparation for this hotly-contested election.
"There is a simple motto in my office: make it easy to vote and hard to cheat," he said, adding that overseeing elections in Ohio is unique in its challenges and importance.
"We have the important role of being the most important swing state in the country," he said. "We see the hottest fires and we have to be the strongest steel. We have to be the best system in the country, and I think we are."
An Election Night includes 40,000 poll workers in 9,200 locations across the state. There are 5.7 million registered voters, and 5.63 million voted in the 2012 presidential election, compared to the 3.8 million of the past gubernatorial election. There have also been frequent ties and recounts at the local level. Husted noted that every vote makes a difference.
"We're working to try to modernize our system in Ohio, to be the best in the country," he said, noting that 253 deceased voters have been removed from the voter rolls inherited when he took office. 340,000 duplicates on the rolls were also reduced to four.
He also addressed the popularity of early voting, with one out of every three voters voting before Election Day the last election. The issue of voter fraud and voter suppression has also been a topic of importance, with Husted's office ordering every county in the state to investigate every substantiated case of voter fraud or suppression. The result was zero cases of suppression and 270 cases of alleged fraud, with less than 50 substantiated fraud cases, and fewer that will be prosecuted.
"Fraud does exist, but it's very rare. Suppression: no evidence of it at all. Every single person that wanted to vote in Ohio, got to vote," Husted said. "It's easy to vote in our state."
Husted reported that his office went further by comparing lists with 22 other states to catch instances of the same person voting in different states.
He added that a clear message will be sent that honest voter will not see their votes diluted and that anyone planning to cheat the system will be caught and punished.
"We're modernizing the system and making it almost impossible for you to cheat. We'll catch you and it's not worth it," he said.
Husted pointed out the importance of rebuilding the public's confidence in government and the electoral system.
"I want people to trust the system of elections. I want people to believe that elections in Ohio are run in a fair and honest manner, so at least they know that that fool in office got there honestly," he said.
His office has also initiated the Military Ready to Vote Program, which involved sending ballots to Ohioans serving in the military worldwide. Ohio was recognized as one of six All-Star states for facilitating voting for military personnel.
He also added that while his office is committed to securing and streamlining the system, democracy also calls for the electorate to uphold their part by registering, being informed of the issues, and making their voices heard.
Moving to other topics, Husted acknowledged that local offices have been asked to do more with the cuts to local government funds and added that his budget has been cut by 21 percent, with his staff reduced by 25 percent, while record numbers of business forms have been processed and the presidential election has been run at a lower cost.
"As Republicans, if we want people to believe in us and what we do, we can't say one thing is good for everybody else and not make it good for us too," he said, noting the importance of restoring trust in the GOP in preparation for the 2014 election.
He pointed out that worry regarding the Affordable Care Act is a leading issue. He recounted conversations with business owners and doctors. He said the confusion and uncertainty is leading to stagnation in the economy and slowing job creation.
"Right now, the brand for Democrats and Republicans is pretty much in the tank," he said.
He spoke of the importance of demonstrating that conservative practices and policies represent the best course to create opportunities to uplift citizens.
Husted concluded by reaffirming the bright future that is possible for America. He referenced in far more arduous points in the country's history where the Christmas season was marked, such as the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.
Also present during the dinner were Judges Frank Fregiato, Chris Berhalter, Mark Costine, and Eric Costine, Prosecutor Dan Frye, Sheriff David Lucas, mayors, village council members, township trustees, and a representative from the office of Congressman Bill Johnson.
Belmont County Republican Party Chair Kent Moore thanked all for their support of the party and emphasized the importance of individual contribution and effort. He encouraged principled community members to become involved in politics and to run as candidates for local political office.
He also recognized several students from the government class at St. John's who attended the event.
DeFrank can be reached at email@example.com