Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Voters stand near a voting sign before casting ballots during early voting at the Franklin County Board of Elections in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 28, 2016.

Ohio review finds evidence of non-citizen voting – in very small numbers

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted says his office has identified 82 non-US citizens who voted illegally voted in recent elections in the state.

Ohio announced on Monday that 82 non-citizens voted illegally in November.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted released the latest installment of voter fraud data the state has been collecting since 2013. In 2016, he said, they identified 385 non-citizens on the voter rolls. Of these, 82 are alleged to have voted illegally, and will be referred to prosecutors for possible felony prosecution. The other 303 non-citizens, Secretary Husted said, will be given the opportunity to voluntarily remove themselves from the rolls.

Given President Trump’s repeated allegations of voter fraud, Ohio’s announcement may appear to lend credence to these concerns. At the same time, though illegal voter activity may be occurring, Husted and others note that it is very limited in scope.

“In light of the national conversation, we want to share the facts,” Husted said. “Some people look at the facts and say we have very few among millions of voters, so it’s not a big deal. Others will look at this as validation that voter fraud is real and could impact an election. Both sides have a point.”

Mr. Trump has repeatedly alleged that between 3 million and 5 million illegal votes cost him the popular vote in November. These figures appear to have been drawn from an Old Dominion University study that indicated that 14 percent of non-citizens were registered to vote, for a total of 3.2 million illegal votes, The Christian Science Monitor reported in January.

That study has since been contested, however, and other studies indicate that the instances of voter fraud are much lower and typically lack criminal intent. Nevertheless, earlier this month, Trump directed Vice President Mike Pence to lead a federal investigation into voter fraud. Congress has opposed federal spending on voter fraud allegations, with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky telling CNN’s “State of the Union” that states should be responsible for investigating. 

Ohio’s investigation, which has been underway since 2013, is a model of state-based voter fraud investigation. 

To identify potential illegal voters, Husted cross-referenced the voter registration database with citizenship information from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Typically, these individuals are legal residents who self-identify as non-citizens when they apply for drivers’ licenses. As non-citizens, they are ineligible to vote in federal elections, but some end up on the rolls anyway, the investigation has indicated. 

None of the illegal votes identified so far would have impacted the outcome of an election, Husted indicated. In fact, the combined 82 allegedly illegal votes accounted for just 0.0015 percent of the 5.6 million Ohio votes cast in November, according to the Toledo Blade. But a single vote can have an impact, Husted added.

“In the last four years in Ohio there have been 112 elections decided by one vote or were tied,” Husted said. “Every vote matters, and any illegal vote can have an effect.”

That’s a point corroborated by Neil Bradley, the former associate director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

"This is all about small percentages of voters,” he previously told the Monitor’s Patrik Jonsson. “But we’re a divided country, and small percentages of voters can determine an election.”

Republicans and Democrats are divided over how to address this small-scale voter fraud. One solution proposed by Republicans is voter ID laws, which they say would improve accountability at the polls. Democrats counter that voter ID laws discriminate against poor and minority Americans, and suggest that all eligible voters be automatically registered to vote. This, they say, would remove the possibility of non-citizens being added to the voter rolls.

“Why are we always hearing about this problem after an election when we can fix it beforehand?” asked Democratic Ohio state Rep. Kathleen Clyde in a statement, pointing to her Automatic Voter Registration bill as a possible solution. Representative Clyde is considered a possible candidate for secretary of state in 2018.

The bill, she said, “would put the experts in charge of making the list of who can vote. We would have cleaner, more accurate voter rolls and greater voting access for all eligible Ohioans.”

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