Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose talks to reporters. (Photo by Susan Tebben, OCJ.)
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose sent 11 criminal referrals Wednesday for purported election crimes from “non-citizens” to the Ohio Attorney General.
They include 10 people who allegedly registered to vote but never cast a ballot, and one who “may have voted illegally,” according to LaRose.
The referrals came via a 2016 Ohio law that requires the secretary of state to annually review the statewide voter registration database looking for names of people who told the Bureau of Motor Vehicles that they’re not U.S. citizens.
The 11 people could include Ohio residents living in the U.S. on temporary visas or possibly (though less likely) undocumented residents.
LaRose spokesman Rob Nichols declined to identify the subjects of the referral. He said five were from Franklin County, four were from Cuyahoga County, and one each from Lorain and Montgomery counties. He didn’t offer further detail. Together, the 11 represent an infinitesimal piece of Ohio’s electorate.
The 2016 law in question was sponsored by LaRose, who was a state senator at the time before winning statewide office in 2018.
It requires the secretary of state to contact at least twice any non-citizens who register to vote. If they don’t cancel their registration within 30 days of the second notice, the law requires the secretary of state to make a criminal referral.
The 10 who allegedly registered to vote but never cast a ballot, if charged, could face a fifth-degree felony: six to 12 months in prison and up to a $2,500 fine.
The one person who “may have” illegally voted, if charged, could face a fourth-degree felony: six to 18 months in prison and up to a $5,000 fine.
Spokespersons for Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost didn’t respond to inquiries.
Nichols declined to comment on LaRose’s behalf Wednesday evening on whether the punishment fits the alleged crime.
“The reason voter fraud is exceedingly rare in Ohio is because we have strong legal prohibitions against it and we aggressively prosecute those who commit it,” he said.
The citizenship provision was a small piece of a larger election bill that included creating online voter registration in Ohio. It drew bipartisan co-sponsorship. The ACLU and League of Women Voters both supported the legislation in 2016. A spokesperson for the ACLU couldn’t be reached.
Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters, said it’s important to maintain the integrity of elections and voter rolls. However, she described some of the voter registration penalties — even if they’re unlikely to apply — as somewhat heavy handed.
“I think sometimes new Americans accidentally register to vote, this can be because of misunderstandings of the law or a language barrier,” she said. “The idea of a felony charge simply for registering does seem like an overreach.”
Bipartisan state lawmakers earlier this year voted to propose an amendment to the state constitution that would expressly prohibit non-citizens from voting in Ohio elections. This comes in response to the village of Yellow Springs (population less than 4,000) amending its charter last year to allow non-citizens to vote, citing a 1917 Ohio Supreme Court ruling.
“But, it seems that no noncitizen has registered to vote in the village,” researchers for the nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission wrote analyzing the proposal. “If such a person did register, that action likely would trigger a lawsuit. LSC cannot predict how a reviewing court would rule in such a case.”
The issue will appear on the November general election ballot.
This article was updated with additional comment from LaRose.
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