Secretary of State to oversee Franklin County elections board

‘Administrative oversight’ move comes after Election Day hiccups in successive years

By: - November 10, 2021 12:50 am

File photo of early voters at the Franklin County Board of Elections to early vote in 2020. Photo by Marty Schladen, Ohio Capital Journal.

State officials are stepping in to oversee the board of elections in Ohio’s most populous county after a voter reported being able to vote twice to the secretary of state’s office. A review turned up two other instances that look similar. None of those votes will be included when the final results are certified, and they represent a vanishingly small portion of the votes cast in the county — even in an odd year election.

Voter A

In a press release describing the incident Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose says a person referred to only as “Voter A” visited a Franklin County polling location with their spouse on Election Day. Despite voting previously, Voter A was told by a pollworker that their earlier vote was not showing up in the pollbook. Voter A cast another ballot and relayed their concerns to the secretary’s office.

After an initial investigation Franklin County election officials say a total of three individuals were able to cast ballots twice in the 2021 election. To put that in context, those votes represent about one thousandth of one percent of the votes cast in the county this election. The three incidents did not affect the outcome of any contest.

“To be clear, even one illegal vote is one too many, and we will ensure that the members of the Franklin County Board of Elections are held accountable,” LaRose’s release said.

Through a spokesman, LaRose declined a follow up interview request.

Jen Miller from the League of Women Voters of Ohio took a more optimistic view on the matter, focusing on the reaction rather than the inciting incident.

“I would just say I think this demonstrates our system of checks and balances in the electoral process is working,” Miller said. “Our elections here in Ohio are secure because we have so many individuals working to ensure that the system works properly.”

Franklin County Commissioner Erica Crawley took a similar stance, noting no double votes were actually counted.

“The board of elections currently has three mechanisms in place that would have weeded out double votes,” she explained describing regular internal audits that happen between Election Day and submitting the final results for certification.

LaRose is still moving to place the board under administrative oversight, noting the problems Franklin County saw in the 2021 election are similar to issues the county dealt with in 2020 as well. Electronic pollbooks failed to properly update ahead of Election Day last year which forced polling locations to use paper backups.

The board had to develop a remediation plan afterward but LaRose’s initial report found the board, “either did not have a process in place to determine if all e-pollbooks were properly updated with the final voter history data, or if they did have a process, they failed to follow it properly.”

Aaron Ockerman who heads up the Ohio Association of Election Officials says the repeated nature of the problem likely prompted state intervention.

“The issue really is that it’s an ongoing problem that the secretary of state had instructed the board to fix, and obviously it didn’t get fixed, so it’s kind of the same problem happening over multiple elections.”

Ockerman is quick to note oversight arrangements aren’t exactly uncommon — a handful of other counties are in the same boat for a variety of reasons. And state oversight doesn’t amount to a state takeover.

“I would hate for people to think, ‘Oh the board is on administrative oversight they’ve completely screwed up, the state’s completely taken over,’ it’s not really like that,” Ockerman explained. “It’s really more of a tool to assist boards of elections to make sure that issues are being remediated, to make sure the voters are being well served.”

But Ockerman also thinks it’s unlikely Franklin County will have checked all the boxes laid out for it before next year’s primary or general election. Crawley is a tad more hopeful, suggesting the board could be operating on its own by the general.

That contest will be significant, as Ohio voters decide on a new slate of state and congressional representatives with a new district maps in place, as well as fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant after Republican Rob Portman chose not to run for reelection.

Testing the System?

The incidents described in Franklin County are reminiscent of a pitch to ‘test’ the electoral system made by former President Donald Trump last year. In the home stretch of the 2020 election he urged supporters to attempt to vote twice — once with an absentee ballot and once on Election Day.

“Let them send it in, and let them go vote,” Trump told North Carolina television station WCET. “And if the system is as good as they say it is, then they obviously won’t be able to vote (at the poll).”

Secretary of State officials seem confident Voter A was not intentionally trying to cast multiple ballots, but their release notes that’s not the case for at least one of the other individuals.

“A second voter was told by another individual with knowledge of this e-pollbook issue to attempt to cast a second vote, despite the knowledge that this voter had already cast her ballot during the early voting period,” the release stated.

The secretary’s office has directed the board to work with county prosecutors to determine what, if any, charges are necessary. Voting or attempting to vote twice is a fourth degree felony in Ohio. Following an audit of last year’s election, LaRose’s office referred 13 cases of potential voter fraud — about .00016% of the ballots cast — to the attorney general for charges.

For her part, Crawley believes all three voters uncovered in the review should have their cases referred to the county prosecutor. While Crawley acknowledges she can’t know whether they were operating in good faith, ensuring confidence in the voting system is too important to ignore.

“I will always be concerned about someone who is intentionally trying to undermine our voting system,” Crawley said, “whether it’s voter suppression or people trying to vote multiple times.”



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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.