Forty-four non-citizens may have voted illegally in Ohio at some point since 2000.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has been on a mission to weed out purported voter fraud in the state since he took office in 2011. After launching an investigation into what he called an “expanding loophole” allowing non-citizens to vote in Ohio and potentially decide elections, he announced Thursday that 145 non-citizens were registered to vote illegally in 2014, amounting to just .0002 percent of the 7.7 million registered voters in the state.
Husted’s office would not provide any information about the 27 people it referred to the Attorney General’s office for further review. But in 2013, his office sent 17 potential cases — .0003 percent of total ballots cast in the state — to the AG who eventually referred them to county prosecutors. Most reports of voting irregularities were dropped by the county prosecutors because the “voter fraud” problems were determined to have been caused by simple mistakes and confused senior citizens, according to a Cleveland Plain Dealer investigation.
Voter fraud in Ohio is a fifth-degree felony and could carry up to a year in prison. But of the cases referred to prosecutors’ offices in 2013, most irregularities were caused by voter confusion or mistakes made by elections officials and not deliberate attempts to commit fraud, the investigation found. For example, Cuyahoga County looked into 15 cases referred from Husted’s office and chose not to pursue criminal charges against any of the individuals, concluding that the voters were confused about the “Golden Week” during which people can both register to vote and also cast their absentee ballot.
In total, only four people were convicted of voting fraud as a result of the 2013 investigation, Eve Mueller, the deputy director of communications for the Office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, told ThinkProgress. Mueller said the office could not comment on the ongoing investigations into the newly announced cases.
“In all of the instances where potential voter fraud has been brought up, even outside of undocumented people who may be voting… the prosecutors have said, ‘this is not a person who was really trying to defraud the system. They made an innocent mistake and this is not what voter fraud really is,’” Ohio ACLU Senior Policy Director Mike Brickner told ThinkProgress. “I suspect that once a lot of these other cases that Secretary Husted has pointed out really come under scrutiny, most of them will not end up in convictions or prosecutions and again the number will be really small.”
According to his announcement Thursday, Husted identified two non-citizens who registered to vote and then cast ballots in Hamilton County. In 2013, he referred 48 potential cases of voter fraud to the county prosecutor’s office and only six cases were pursued, Chief Assistant Prosecutor Julie Wilson said in 2014.
“The non-citizen issue certainly was not the biggest problem with those cases, that’s for sure,” Wilson told ThinkProgress, adding that maybe one, if any, of the six cases concerned non-citizens voting, although she could not confirm that information.
Husted also said in his announcement Thursday that his office would likely turn up more cases of voter fraud if the federal government would provide it with the social security numbers of non-citizens so it could cross-check the voter rolls. But the federal database Husted wants access to is often outdated and error-riddled, as GOP officials who used the database to purge the rolls of non-citizens in Florida, Colorado and Iowa discovered. Those efforts ultimately found almost no non-citizens.
Last month, Husted wrote a letter to President Obama in which he claimed the executive action on immigration will lead to non-citizens registering to vote which would have “lasting implications for the integrity of our elections,” although he admitted at the time that non-citizen voting “is not a huge problem.”
“I am committed to my responsibility to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat, and with the cooperation of the federal government we can do this without any additional burden on the voters,” Husted said in a statement Thursday. “Without access to the information we need, this will continue to be an unresolved problem.”
While Husted may say he intends to make it easier to vote, his actions suggest otherwise. In 2012, he made extensive efforts to cut early voting, going so far as to defy a court order requiring early voting hours to be restored. In 2014, Husted agreed to join an error-riddled multi-state voter purge database which he claimed would prevent voters from casting ballots in multiple states during an election.
Also during the 2014 election, more than 10,000 absentee ballots were rejected in Ohio, according to State Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D) who told the Plain Dealer that Husted’s time should be dedicated to eliminating cases of voter suppression.
“I would like to see the Secretary of State focus on the real problems in our elections instead of playing to his base with these distractions,” Clyde said in a statement. “Ohioans deserve answers on why their votes are being thrown out.”
Conservatives have long tried to tie immigration reform to potential voter fraud. Those like Husted who claim undocumented immigrants could influence elections continue to cite a study suggesting that non-citizen voting could have determined the 2014 election. But the research has largely been debunked, and the study’s authors acknowledged the limitations of their findings.
According to a recently released report by Nonprofit VOTE, voting in Ohio dropped by 22 percent from 2012 to 2014 and the state ranked 34th in overall turnout in 2014, a year which saw the lowest national turnout since World War II.
“We don’t have enough people coming out and voting, and a lot of that is due to the constant barrage of voter restrictions we have in the state,” Brickner said. “For a decade now, we have been constantly having restrictions coming from our General Assembly, from our Secretary of State and from our governor’s office all designed to make it harder for people to vote. That’s really the problem with our election system, not that there are scores of people out there trying to register and defraud the system who aren’t supposed to be voting.”