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Less than one in a million.
Those are the chances a noncitizen will be found guilty of illegally voting in a statewide election in Ohio. It’s not because authorities aren’t doing all they can to detect and prosecute voter fraud. It’s because votes cast by noncitizens are extremely rare. And, nearly all result from honest mistakes, not fraud.
Once again, Secretary of State Jon Husted has performed a valuable public service by reporting on efforts to identify cases of potential voter fraud and referring them for possible prosecution.
Husted reported that 82 noncitizens voted in 2016. They were among 385 noncitizens improperly registered to vote. Combined with the numbers from the 2012 and 2014 elections, there have been 821 improper registrations and 126 improperly cast ballots. In those three elections, nearly 14.4 million Ohioans went to the polls.
So, for starters, over three statewide elections, a noncitizen cast an improper ballot for every 114,285 voters going to the polls. And, if Husted’s 2016 referrals follow the same pattern as those for 2012 and 2014, prosecutors will find that fewer than 1 in 5 deserve to be charged, and fewer still will be found guilty.
Following the 2012 and 2014 elections, Husted’s efforts resulted in a total of 44 cases of potential fraud being referred. After prosecutors examined the evidence, eight people were charged. Five were convicted. One went to a diversion program. The other two cases were sealed.
Bottom line: Even if all eight of those prosecuted had been convicted, they represent less than one voter in a million. In the 2012 and 2014 elections, nearly 8.8 million Ohioans went to the polls.
Why are noncitizens referred for investigation and possible prosecution so rarely charged? And so rarely found guilty? According to spokesmen for Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine, prosecutors are much more likely to find honest mistakes than criminal intent. And those honest mistakes are not always the fault of the noncitizen voter; they sometimes are the mistakes of those who register voters and process voting rolls.
Since 1995, federal law — the so-called Motor Voter Law — has required motor vehicle registrars to offer customers the opportunity to register or re-register to vote.
From 2012 through 2016, Ohio’s deputy registrars have registered 896,601 new voters. Given such volume, it’s not rare for a noncitizen — oftentimes with limited English proficiency — to have a voter registration form placed in front of him. And for a mistake to happen.
Prosecutors frequently determine that a noncitizen who registered to vote never intended to register, said DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney. “Sometimes they fill it out truthfully and it still gets through the system,” he said.
Given the rarity of voter fraud in Ohio, some have criticized Husted for devoting so much time and effort to track and report on it.
The Dispatch believes otherwise. The secretary of state is morally and legally obligated to protect the sanctity of the vote. A periodic examination educates the public, puts citizens and noncitizens on notice, and serves as a deterrent.
Voting rights advocates should welcome the vivid illustration of the rarity of voter fraud in Ohio. The plain facts disprove the wearisome claims about rampant voter fraud, made to justify efforts to enact tougher voter ID laws and other restrictions.
Voter fraud is likely at an all-time low in Ohio. That’s something to cheer.