So, is the election system in Hamilton County rife with fraud, with people voting twice and voting from fictitious locations and even casting ballots for dead people?
Well, yes and no.
Over the past several months, the Hamilton County Board of Elections has investigated dozens of cases of what they have called “voter anomalies.” But not enough to change the results of the election; and apparently not in any organized way.
The Hamilton County Republican Party, in a statement e-mailed to its supporters last week, has called it “widespread fraud” and an “epidemic of illegal conduct.”
Hamilton County Democrats - including the two who sit on the board of elections, party chairman Tim Burke and party executive director Caleb Faux – freely admit there were problems in the 2012 election, but contend that it is not as large a problem as the Republicans are making it out to be.
Well over 100 voters have been investigated by the board of elections so far. Six have been referred to the Hamilton County prosecutor’s office. Three have been charged with crimes.
But, if Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters has his way, dozens more cases will be referred to his office for possible prosecution.
So what’s going on here?
Two things, really.
The board of elections looked at dozens of “voter anomalies” over the past few months. The majority of them, the board decided had done nothing wrong – they had voted absentee ballots by mail and then showed up at their polling places on election day and were given a provisional ballot.
Elections officials checked them out; and only one of their votes – the absentee ballot – was counted.
“People voted absentee and cast a provisional ballot,’’ Burke said. “There was no crime. And they did not vote twice.”
In some cases, people said they couldn’t remember if they had sent an absentee ballot in or not. Some said they were afraid their absentee ballots hadn’t been received.
Either way, the poll workers at the polling places did what they were supposed to do – give them a provisional ballot.
The second thing involves voters registering to vote at post office boxes and UPS stores.
The Ohio Voter Integrity Project, a tea party organization, combed the voting rolls and found dozens of them in Hamilton County; and brought the cases to the board of elections.
On Thursday, the board of elections voted unanimously to challenge those voters – which means, if they show up at polling place on election day, their names will be flagged and they will be required to show proof they live in a post office box or a private shipping company before they will be given a ballot.
Alex Triantafilou, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party and a board of elections member, said in the party’s e-mailed statement that “we owe a special debt of gratitude to the fine citizens of the Ohio Voter Integrity Project for their highly professional, unbiased and organized investigation in this conduct. Without their good work, much of what we are finding would not be possible.”
Burke said he has no problem with what the tea party activists are doing; and that he, too, has a problem with people trying to vote from post office boxes.
“It’s hard for me to argue with what they are doing,’’ Burke said. “They are being more careful, and there doesn’t seem to be any partisan nature to it.”
Fine. So everybody agrees – those with overwhelming evidence that they broke the law, they should be punished; those who did nothing wrong should not.
Well, maybe not.
That’s where Deters comes in.
In March, at the request of the board, Deters issued a legal opinion in which he said that if the board of elections “has evidence that a voter has voted or attempted to vote more than once at 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.”
If the board did that, 67 cases would go to the prosecutor for possible criminal prosecution.
And most of them would be people that the board has already determined did nothing wrong by voting an absentee ballot and then voting a provisional ballot on election day.
Deters hangs his hat on Ohio Revised Code 3599.12 which says, in part, that no one should “vote or attempt to vote more than once at the same election by any means.”
Burke strongly disagrees, saying Deters left out the part of the law which says that no one shall vote by absentee and regular ballot in the same election. And he cites another part of the law – Ohio Revised Code 3509.09 (B)(2) – which permits people who have already sent in an absentee ballot to cast a provisional ballot on election day.
“The point is, people who do this only get one vote – their absentee ballot,’’ Burke said. “Only one vote was counted.”
Turning over dozens of cases to the prosecutor would allow “the threat of a felony to hang over the heads of a lot of people who have done nothing wrong.”
Nonetheless, the two Republicans on the board, Triantafilou and Chip Gerhardt, are likely to come to the board’s May 15 meeting and make a motion to refer all or some of the cases the board has already looked at to the prosecutor’s office. This would probably include many of the mail box voters.
Burke and Faux will likely vote against it.
There will be a tie vote; and the issue will go to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican who will cast the tie-breaking vote.
“Maybe that is where this issue should go,’’ Burke told WVXU. “One way or another, we have to resolve this. But I don’t like the idea of putting people who have done nothing wrong through a criminal investigation.”
Triantafilou, in his e-mail statement, said “we hope that the citizens of Hamilton County see their board of elections working in a bipartisan fashion to investigate, eliminate and refer for prosecution this egregious criminal conduct.”
And here you thought the 2012 election was over. Far from it.