Partisan fireworks coming over vote fraud cases?

May 12, 2013

So far, during the months of investigation into alleged voter fraud in the 2012 election, the two Republicans and two Democrats on the Hamilton County Board of Elections have, for the most part, played nice, with partisan bickering down to a minimum.

That could change very quickly Wednesday morning, when the board of elections next meets.

That’s when the board will take up the issue of whether to refer more cases of alleged “voter  anomalies” – that is the polite word they have been using for cases of alleged voter fraud – to the Hamilton County prosecutor.

Possibly dozens of them.

The board of elections has already sent six cases, out of well over 100 investigated by board staff, to Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters; and all six have resulted in indictments.

Deters wants more.

In March, at the request of the board, he sent a letter with a legal opinion, saying that if the board of elections “has evidence that a voter has voted or attempted to vote more than once in the same election by any means, the board should refer the matter to the prosecuting attorney, together with any evidence the board has, for further review and action as the prosecuting attorney may deem appropriate.”

The Republicans on the board – Hamilton County GOP chair Alex Triantafilou and Chip Gerhardt – have interpreted this as a broad mandate; and are inclined to send dozens more cases to the prosecutor.
The Democrats on the board – Hamilton County Democratic Party chair Tim Burke and party executive director Caleb Faux – argue that most of these people have been checked out and were found by the board staff to have done nothing wrong.

Dozens of them were voters who cast early absentee ballots by mail last fall and then showed up at the polling places to vote on election day, where poll workers gave them a provisional ballot, as they were required to do.

The records were checked; and when it was found that a person had already voted absentee, his or her provisional ballot was not counted.

“These voters played by the rules,’’ Burke said. “There’s no reason to have a criminal investigation hanging over their heads.”

Triantafilou said he and Gerhardt are still reviewing each case of a “voter anomaly” one by one; and have yet to decide how many they will recommend be sent to the prosecutor.

“I don’t want there to be anything political about this,’’ Triantafilou said. “But I am not prepared to say that every person who tried to vote twice did it innocently. And the prosecutor said to send them to us and we are inclined to do that.”

Triantafilou said that if dozens more cases are sent to the prosecutor, “the idea will be for the prosecutor to investigate them, not necessarily prosecute them. Investigate.”

If the Republicans come to the board of elections meeting Wednesday with a list of cases they want to send to the prosecutor that the Democrats believe is too broad, there will be a tie about vote. And, in Ohio, when there is a tie vote of the board of elections, the tie is broken by the secretary of state, Jon Husted, a Republican.

There is one group of “voter anomalies” that the Republicans and the Democrats on the board may be able to agree on.

The board staff and the Ohio Voter Integrity Project, a tea party organization, came up with about three dozen people who listed post office boxes or mail boxes at private firms as their residences when they registered to vote.

The law says that you must register using the address where you hang your hat, where you sleep at night. No one lives in a post office box. And it could result in people voting in elections outside the areas where they actually live, and helping decide candidate races and issues they have no right to vote on.

The good news, according to board of elections officials, is that many of those people have never actually cast a ballot in any election. But some have.

Nonetheless, it is a fifth degree felony to list a false address on a voter registration form.

The Democrats on the board agree with the Republicans that some of these cases may have to be referred to the prosecutor for more investigation.

“I don’t disagree with (Triantafilou) on that,’’ Burke said. “Those people registered with post office boxes are a different matter.”

But if the Republicans come in to Wednesday’s meeting with a long list of people who voted absentee and then cast provisional ballots, there will be fireworks.

“If the Republicans’ idea is that we are going to send these people to possible criminal prosecution, then, yes we are going to get partisan about this,’’ Burke said.