A Hamilton County Board of Elections hearing on Friday into possible vote fraud last November produced no Perry Mason moments but plenty of evidence of voter confusion – not over for whom to vote, but how to vote.
In the first of two hearings intended to give subpoenaed individuals who voted twice a final chance to explain their actions and avoid possible prosecution, the explanations ranged from poll workers’ advice to worries over inadequate postage on absentee ballots to whether the ballots had even been mailed at all.
At least in the handful of cases reviewed in full Friday, no sinister motives or actions emerged. The board plans to hold another hearing next week, then decide which of the roughly 20 cases still being investigated – from among about four times that number initially examined – should be forwarded to county prosecutors.
The case of Veronica Stearns, a 51-year-old Springfield Township voter, was typical of those heard Friday. Stearns acknowledged having cast an absentee ballot and then also voting a second time at her polling place on Election Day.
Stearns said she became concerned when a postal worker told her mother that absentee ballot envelopes without two stamps – hers had only one – would not be delivered. (In fact, the post office’s policy is to deliver such ballot envelopes, with boards of elections picking up the additional postage cost, said board member Caleb Faux.)
“The post office told my mom my vote wouldn’t be counted,” she said.
When she went to her polling place on Election Day, Stearns said, workers who she told that she already had voted absentee allowed her to cast a provisional ballot – the proper procedure.
Provisional ballots are cast when there is a question over a voter’s eligibility, often after a move, a name change or in cases when it is unclear whether a requested absentee ballot has actually been cast. After officials sort out the matter, they decide which, if any, of a voter’s ballots to count. In instances in which both an absentee and Election Day ballot have been cast, the vote counted usually is the first one cast – the absentee.
Another voter, Rick William Manoff of Green Township, offered a variation on the same theme. In his case, Manoff was not worried whether he had put enough postage on his absentee ballot – he was worried whether it had been mailed at all.
Manoff said that, after beginning to fill out his absentee ballot, he left it on a table along with a stack of bills.
“I don’t recall sending it in,” he said. But his absentee ballot did reach the elections board, and Manoff theorizes that a cousin or others with a key to his home may have mailed it. When he went to the polls on Election Day, he, too, was allowed to vote provisionally – a ballot later discarded in favor of his absentee ballot.
And one case – in which a woman initially was thought to have tried to vote illegally at the polls under the name of someone who already had voted absentee – was cleared up when officials learned that the episode involved two women with the same name, Carolyn Johnson.
I was pleased that the Board of Elections pursued these allegations of voter fraud because if we don’t pursue the allegations they just fester for years and we end up with vague accusations and conspiracy theories. I wish this hearing process in Ohio had been handled in a less accusatory manner, with the benefit of the doubt given to the voter and a focus not on uncovering evidence towards prosecution but instead improving voting systems. I’d like to discard this idea promoted by conservative politicians and media celebrities that voters are entering polling places just bound and determined to commit a felony. Instead, I’d like to go back to the idea that voting should be designed and administered for voters. Voters are not the enemy here. They’re the whole point of this exercise.
There’s a Pew Center project where they’re working with MIT to rank states on voting process, based on how well each state system serves voters:
The other thing that ties a lot of the good-performing states together is the presence of election-day registration. If you’re in a state that has election-day registration, it suggests a willingness of state and local government to be cooperative and to view elections as a cooperative effort on the part of election officials and citizens. States that resist it are likely to view what happens on Election Day not as good-willed citizens trying to have their voice heard in government, but rather a problem of the wrong people trying to vote. It’s an attitude about elections.
It’s an attitude about elections, all right. Cooperative, not adversarial.