Republicans and Democrats on the Hamilton County Board of Elections are split over a county prosecutor’s opinion which says dozens of voters who cast two ballots in last year’s election should be referred for potential criminal prosecution – even though the board has already exonerated most of them.
Near the end of a board meeting that last three-and-a-half hours Wednesday, the two Democrats and two Republicans on the board discussed an opinion from Prosecutor Joe Deters, but decided not to actually vote on whether approximately 67 cases should be sent to the prosecutor.
That will likely happen at the May 15 board meeting, and if, as is likely, it is a tie vote on party lines, the issue will be decided by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican.
In most of the cases, the people who cast two ballots had mailed in an absentee ballot and then showed up at their polling places on election day and were given a provisional ballot to cast. Board of elections officials ended up counting only their absentee ballots.
The conflict on the board is a result of an opinion sent by Deters to the board of elections on March 27, in which he said there is an apparent conflict in Ohio between a provision which requires people be given a provisional ballot and another provision which states that no person shall “vote or attempt to vote more than once at the same election by any means."
Hamilton County elections board chairman Tim Burke called assistant county prosecutor James Harper into Wednesday’s meeting to discuss the prosecutor’s opinion.
“In the case of these voters, they only got one vote,’’ Burke said. “I do not want to hang the shadow of a felony over people I do not believe have committed a crime.”
Harper said the prosecutor’s office “deals with conflicts in the law all the time.”
“The question is, are there are other facts that would have a bearing on these cases,’’ Harper said.
The prosecutor’s office, Harper said, “has the ability to decide whether or not a criminal prosecution should take place. And we might decide that it does not.”
Alex Triantafilou, a Republican board member, made it clear he agrees with the prosecutor's opinion.
"We have been calling these 'voter anomalies' to be polite, but what we have seen here is more fraud than I have ever seen,'' Triantafilou said. "I think we should have looked at all 67."
During the meeting, the board also voted to challenge 36 voters who registered to vote at mail box addresses at UPS stores and United States Postal Service branches around the county, instead of using their residential addresses. Most of the people did not attempt to vote in last year’s election; and some have never voted.
But the challenges approved by the board mean that if those people show up at polling places in the next election, they will be required to provide proof that they live at the addresses they listed on their registration forms.
Alex Triantafilou, the county GOP chairman who is a board of elections member, said he thinks those people should be referred to the prosecutor for possible prosecution too.
“Listing a false address on a voter registration form is a crime too,’’ Triantafilou said.
Eighteen of the 67 double-voters were investigated earlier this year by the Hamilton County Board of Elections. The other 49, the board determined, had done nothing wrong and didn’t warrant further investigation.
Six cases were referred to the prosecutor; and so far, three have been charged.