[Image courtesy of humanevents]
Earlier this year, I had a series of blog posts from Ohio covering some interesting cases unearthed by a post-election review of the state's voter records for potential fraud. In one, questions were raised about the eligibility of voters registered at a motor court for RVs, and another involving a number of police officers registered at their work addresses.
Now, over a year after Election Day 2012, Robert Higgs of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has compiled a study of the disposition of all of the potential fraud cases in several of the state's largest counties from that vote. It's an interesting study because it illuminates the role of confusion and error in many cases - plus the strong influence of prosecutorial discretion. From cleveland.com:
Despite concerns by some Ohio lawmakers about voter fraud, most of the voting irregularities that elections officials reported during the 2012 general election did not result in criminal charges ...
Prosecutors in counties large and small told the media outlet their investigations typically concluded that the irregularities resulted from confusion by voters or mistakes by elections officials rather than from people trying to game the system.
And while Republican lawmakers have introduced bills aimed at curbing voter fraud, some Republican prosecutors joined their Democratic counterparts in reporting no evidence of a widespread problem.
"Basically I found that there wasn't an overwhelming pattern of voter fraud," said Butler County Prosecutor Michael T. Gmoser, a Republican in a Republican-dominated county. "There's a couple of isolated incidents of people making bone-headed decisions."
Northeast Ohio Media Group looked at the eight counties that each generated at least 10 reports of voting irregularities during the 2012 election. The prosecutors in those counties - Butler, Cuyahoga, Delaware, Erie, Fairfield, Franklin, Hamilton and Medina - collectively reviewed 210 of the 270 cases reported statewide. Here is what they reported:
Butler County looked at 11 cases, and Gmoser, the prosecutor, pressed charges against one man who voted in the county and in another state. The man told investigators he only voted for issues on his absentee ballot from Butler County. He voted for president in the other state. Gmoser said he felt a duty to prosecute because the man knew what he was doing. The man pleaded to a reduced charge.
Cuyahoga County chose not to pursue criminal charges in any of the 15 cases referred to the prosecutor's office. Most of the cases involved confusion about the so-called Golden Week, the one week during early absentee voting when a person can both register to vote and also cast their absentee ballot.
Some mail sent to potential voters to confirm their registrations was returned as undeliverable, said Joseph Frolik, communications director for Democratic Prosecutor Timothy J McGinty. But the problems with delivery didn't appear to be a result at someone trying to fraudulently register. On some, it appeared the person had simply moved. None were determined to have criminal intent needed as a basis for prosecution, he said.
Delaware County investigated 13 voting cases, and filed no charges. But Republican Prosecutor Carol O'Brien's staff did charge a man with falsifying names on an election petition he circulated.
Erie County chose not to prosecute any of the 10 referred to Democratic Prosecutor Kevin Baxter's office. "None rose to a level of criminal intent. It was more confusion on the part of the voter," said Jason Hinners, an assistant county prosecutor. A number of them involved seniors in residence homes.
Franklin County investigated 92 referrals, 90 from its elections board and two more from Husted's office. In an e-mail, Prosecutor Ron O'Brien, a Republican, said 16 cases likely will be prosecuted after some further investigation. Those cases generally involve people who tried to vote twice. Two people are suspected of voting in Ohio and in Arkansas.
Another 40-plus cases require more investigation. Some of those, he said, will be weeded out and dropped. Others could be prosecuted, depending on what is found during additional interviews.
But more than 30 were dropped.
In several cases it appeared there was a technical violation of law, but the status of the offender made it an inappropriate case to prosecute, O'Brien said. Such was the case with "a number of elderly voters who had apparent memory issues, and while they had voted twice or attempted to vote twice, a criminal prosecution was not deemed proper."
Hamilton County investigated 48 cases, but upon review, most were deemed inappropriate for prosecution, said Julie Wilson, Republican Prosecutor Joe Deters' chief assistant prosecutor. Six cases were pursued.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Deters' office won a conviction against a woman for voting five times, twice under her own name and three times for her sister, who has been in a coma since 2003. The newspaper also reported that Deters also won voter-fraud convictions against three others. Cases against two others are pending.
Medina County investigated 10 cases. None led to prosecution.
Prosecutor Dean Holman, a Democrat in a Republican leaning county, recalled that in one case a woman requested, completed and returned an absentee ballot. Then, forgetting she had requested the first, she asked for another. Then she showed up at the polls on election day. Investigators concluded that the woman, who was elderly and dealing with the recent loss of her husband, did not intend to commit a crime.
"Some of these people were just confused,' Holman said. "Those people should not be prosecuted. The criminal justice system is designed for criminal conduct."
An additional 20 cases were referred to Attorney General Mike DeWine by Husted's staff. One led to a guilty plea for falsification. Five others were dropped.
The rest required further investigation, mostly by county prosecutors, and some of those were, including two sent to Cuyahoga, were subsequently dropped.
Data like this is incredibly valuable; without it, the discussion about fraud is animated mostly by anecdotes and rhetoric - but with it, it's possible to see patterns emerge that can lead to improved procedures and safeguards (e.g. reducing confusion for voters in residence homes). While there will still be individuals who do willfully violate the law - whether for nefarious purposes or the human tendency toward the occasional "bone-headed decision" - knowing the ultimate disposition of vote fraud cases is a very useful tool.
Thanks to Mr. Higgs and the Media Group for this story - and to the election officials and prosecutors of Ohio for helping bring this information to light. It's a helpful model for other states and localities who want to paint a clearer picture of the real impact of vote fraud in their communities.