Ohio Voters Face Felony Prosecution For Following Poll Workers’ Instructions

Bella Lipavsky, who cast a provisional ballot at a poll worker's instruction, may now be prosecuted for voter fraud. (Credit: Gary Landers/Enquirer)

On Thursday, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) sided with Republican elections officials to break a deadlocked vote to refer 39 voters who cast two ballots for criminal prosecution. Hamilton County Board of Elections members gridlocked along party lines in May over whether or not these voters should be investigated for fraud or dismissed as simple human error.

In most of these cases, the individual sent in an absentee ballot, but showed up at the polls concerned that their absentee ballot had an error or got lost in the mail. Many were actually instructed by poll workers to fill out provisional ballots, just in case. Ultimately, none of these supposedly fraudulent voters actually had two votes counted.

One woman who is now facing possible criminal charges is 64-year-old Bella Lipavsky, a Russian immigrant and longtime voter who feared she had made a mistake on her absentee ballot. When she asked board of elections officials for help, they told her to cast a provisional ballot. Another woman under investigation, 21-year-old Yamiah Davis, forgot to include a form in her absentee ballot and was also told to fill out a provisional ballot after explaining her predicament to poll workers.

Despite Husted’s own admission that voter fraud is not a serious problem in Ohio, he stepped in to refer these voters — who comprise less than .0001 percent of all Hamilton County votes — for possible felony fraud prosecution.

Hamilton County Board of Elections chair Tim Burke (D) blasted the Secretary’s decision as a “witch hunt aimed at scaring the hell out of voters.” The Advancement Project, a pro-voting rights group, also expressed concern that the decision to criminally prosecute mistaken double voters will discourage people from casting legitimate ballots.

The county prosecutor handling the 39 cases, Joe Deters (R), is known for his overzealous voter fraud investigations. In 2008, he subpoenaed records from roughly 600 voters who took advantage of a same-day registration period during the presidential election. His investigation netted just one case of voter fraud.

Last time the Hamilton County Board of Elections deadlocked along party lines, Husted cast the tie-breaking vote to ban early voting hours during evenings and weekends, when most people have free time to vote. Because of Husted’s interference, Democrat-heavy urban counties’ hours were slashed while Republican-heavy counties expanded their schedules. When people started to notice the disparity, Husted’s response was to cut hours across the state, ignoring multiple boards’ requests to stay open to accommodate voters. As a result of this self-inflicted confusion, Ohio voters — especially those in urban counties — grappled with massive lines in the last days before the election.