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Monday, July 28, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 5/30/2013

Whose vote fraud?

A report by Ohio’s secretary of state makes clear that isolated ballot problems don’t justify vote suppression

Republican state lawmakers routinely propose measures that would discourage voting among Ohioans who aren’t likely to support their party, in the name of election “reform.” But a new report by Ohio’s Republican secretary of state makes clear that vote fraud in our state is neither widespread nor systemic, demolishing the rationale for the broad restrictions other GOP officials seek.

You’d hope that Secretary of State Jon Husted’s findings would end such foolishness as legislation recently passed by the Republican-controlled state House that could make it harder for out-of-state students who attend public universities here to vote. Don’t bet on it, though.

In the first statewide review of its kind, Mr. Husted — Ohio’s chief elections officer — concludes that 115 people apparently voted twice during the state’s 2012 general election; only one of these votes was counted. In most of these instances, voters cast absentee ballots and then came to the polls on Election Day, out of confusion more than dishonesty.

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Another 15 people evidently voted both in Ohio and one of nine other states; another five voters may have done so. That number is minuscule within the more than 5.6 million ballots Ohioans cast last November.

Lucas County’s chronically problem-plagued Board of Elections reported no voting irregularities in the general election. There was just one reported case apiece in Wood and Fulton counties, and two cases in Ottawa County.

The secretary of state is properly asking Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and local prosecutors to investigate the reported violations across the state, and to bring charges where warranted. But Mr. Husted says these cases do not amount to an “epidemic” of voter fraud. He asserts that “hyperbole” about vote suppression expressed before the election was equally overblown; no Ohio voter was improperly denied a ballot last year.

“If you cheat, we’re going to catch you and hold you accountable,” Mr. Husted told The Blade’s editorial page. “Voters should be reassured that the system caught” the fraudsters, he added.

Mr. Husted says he wants other states to work more closely with Ohio to compare voter registration data and identify double voters. He is instructing county elections boards to keep their voter rolls updated, and to flag voters who try to use post office boxes as residential addresses for registration. He also wants to expand online voter registration, to encourage more electronic record-keeping.

But he says he sees no need to meet the expensive, intrusive demands of some lawmakers that Ohioans be required to show state-provided photo identification to vote. Such a mandate would work to the disadvantage of older and poorer voters, with no corresponding increase in election integrity.

Similarly, there is no justification for a provision in the House-approved budget bill that would require Ohio public universities to charge out-of-state students lower in-state tuition if they register to vote here. Universities provide such students with proof of Ohio residency.

The House measure places the universities in the no-win position of either depriving themselves of hundreds of millions of dollars in needed revenue, or becoming unwilling participants in a GOP scheme to suppress student voting. And it would do nothing to curb vote fraud.

The GOP-majority state Senate appears likely to delete the House language from its budget measure. To his credit, state Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) is a prime mover behind that effort. But Senate President Keith Faber (R., Celina) said this week that the issue may return in another form, even though it “just doesn’t make any sense.”

Ohioans can expect other GOP efforts to limit ballot access to disfavored voters. Now, though, such schemes cannot legitimately be based on the hollow excuse that they are necessary to fight voter fraud.



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