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Published: Friday, 5/24/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Ohio voter fraud relatively low

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Twenty people voted both in battleground Ohio and in another state during last year’s presidential election, while 115 more voted twice in the state, the top elections official said on Thursday.

In the majority of those cases, the fraudulent ballots were caught and not counted, but in some cases they did make it through the state’s defenses, according to Secretary of State Jon Husted.

“Voter fraud does exist, but it’s not an epidemic,” he said. “No amount of fraud is acceptable, and if you cheat, you will be caught, and you will be held accountable.”

Ohio and 21 other states — including neighboring Michigan, Kentucky, and West Virginia — voluntarily compared their voter registration databases to flag cases in which voters were simultaneously registered in multiple states. Although it’s not uncommon for people to move without thinking about canceling their registrations in their former states, Ohio found 20 cases in which the voter took it to the next level by voting in both states.

Eight Ohio ballots were cast by people also voting in Florida; two each in Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, and Virginia; and one each in Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Those 20 interstate voters have been referred to Attorney General Mike DeWine for potential charges. In northwest Ohio, one voter apiece in Wood and Allen counties are among the 20.

Mr. Husted and Mr. DeWine’s offices declined to identify the accused. Ohio’s pivotal role in electing presidents explains why residents of less competitive states might prefer to vote here, Mr. Husted said.

In all, county boards of elections reported a total of 625 “voting irregularities.” Of those, 115 were referred to local county prosecutors for review.

Most often, Mr. Husted said, these involved cases where the voter cast an absentee ballot and then showed up to vote in person on Election Day. In most cases, poll workers flagged those voters, but allowed them to cast last-resort, provisional ballots that were disqualified before they could be counted.

“We have a number now,” said Peg Rosenfeld, elections specialist for the League of Women Voters of Ohio. “You can’t ever say that it [voter fraud] is totally unknown, but they make one very good point: If you try to cheat, you will be caught. There are so many safeguards. You’re not going to get away with it."

The fraud cases represent just 0.002397 percent of the 5.6 million who voted last fall in Ohio -- one 200th of 1 percent, Ms. Rosenfeld said.

“These are 135 cases that have been referred to prosecutors,” she said. “They aren’t all convictions. They’re just accusations."

The 115 in-state multiple-voters included 10 in Erie County, three in Allen, and two in Ottawa. The Lucas County Board of Elections reported no alleged irregularities to Mr. Husted’s office while several other large counties -- Cuyahoga, Franklin, and Lorain -- reported more than 100 each.

Ultimately, Mr. Husted said, it comes down to elections boards' judgment as what constitutes an irregularity. He credited the multistate database and technological upgrades to Ohio’s own voter registration database with making it easier to track irregularities.

Mr. Husted said he does not know whether students are among the 20 multistate voters referred to the attorney general. A budget plan the Ohio House of Representatives adopted included a provision requiring public universities to charge out-of-state students cheaper in-state tuition if they provide documentation establishing Ohio residency for voting purposes.

The Senate is expected to strip that provision from the budget before voting next month, but discussions continue on other voting reforms.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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