Ohio Targets Confused Voters For Felony Fraud Prosecution

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted became one of the villains of the 2012 presidential election for his multi-pronged efforts to restrict voting. After the election, Husted ordered all boards of elections to hold public hearings on voter fraud suspicions. Conservatives, long bereft of compelling evidence that in-person voter fraud actually exists, rushed to point out Hamilton County, Ohio, where 93 cases of anomaly votes are being investigated by the board.

The only problem is, 59 of the voters facing possible felony prosecution appear to have cast two ballots by mistake — and ultimately only had one ballot counted. The Cincinnati Enquirer conducted an extensive review of these cases, finding that most involve errors by Board of Elections employees or voter confusion:

• Five are the result of acknowledged errors by a board of elections office. In another nine cases, voters said they did what they did because a Board of Elections employee told them – or didn’t tell them – what to do.

• Eight are the result of postage problems.

12 came from people who were confused, according to the board’s own investigation.

On Wednesday, the board of elections split along party lines over whether 39 of these voters should be reviewed for prosecution. Husted will now have to decide whether to pursue cases like 64-year-old Bella Lipavsky, a Russian immigrant who feared she made a mistake on her absentee ballot and was told to cast a provisional ballot by poll workers. Many other Ohioans shared similar worries with the Enquirer that they had made an error on their absentee ballot or that it would not reach the board of elections. These voters then showed up at the polls and cast provisional ballots, which are used if the voter’s legitimacy is in question. In all 39 cases reviewed Wednesday, only one vote was counted.

Tim Burke, Hamilton County Board of Elections chairman, expressed misgivings to the Enquirer about “an effort by some to make it appear there is more voter fraud than there actually is” by inflating the number of allegations with people who were simply confused by the system. The Hamilton County prosecutor, Joe Deters (R), has charged 6 people for voter fraud thus far.

It’s no surprise these voters were concerned their ballots would not count; Ohio has the highest number of provisional ballots in the country, and routinely tosses thousands of legitimate votes every election. The confusion among voters and poll workers was exacerbated by Husted’s war with the courts over his voting hour restrictions and last-minute changes to vote protocols. Critics predicted that even Husted’s well-intentioned initiative to mail absentee ballot request forms to every registered voter would flood the system with provisional ballots from people who chose to return an absentee ballot application but later decided to vote in person. Sure enough, the number of provisional ballots increased in several Democratic strongholds.

While the hearings have netted a couple of cases of legitimate voter fraud — a nun who voted for a friend who passed away shortly before the election and a poll worker who filled out ballots for her granddaughter and other relatives — they make up less than .0034 percent of all Ohio voters. By contrast, laws meant to combat voter fraud raised obstacles for hundreds of thousands of people — primarily minority, low-income, and elderly Americans — trying to cast their votes all over the country. As many as 49,000 people in Florida, Ohio’s partner in election woes, were discouraged from voting by Republican voter suppression laws.