Yesterday, Ohio’s secretary of state, Jon Husted, issued a press release congratulating himself for finding 385 non-citizens who were registered to vote in 2016, 82 of whom allegedly voted. Husted then goes on to claim there may be more illegally registered non-citizens on the Ohio voting rolls, but the federal government won’t give him access to their non-citizens database to search. If you’ve been following this issue at all, you can probably guess what we have to say about it.
Scale Matters. Three hundred and eighty-five may sound like a large number in some contexts—bank fees, for example—but not when we’re talking about a state voter file. As Carrie Davis, Executive Director of the Ohio League of Women Voters, noted in a press release yesterday:
“In November 2016, Ohio had 7,861,025 registered voters and, of those, 5,607,641 cast ballots in the November election. Husted’s 385 registered amounts to 0.004898% of total registered voters, and his alleged 82 votes cast amount to 0.001462% of the 5,607,641 total votes cast in November 2016.”
So, while the tone of Husted’s announcement is troubling, the findings of the investigation seem to bear out his own saner words from just one month ago: “While we should always continue to work to improve our election system, we don’t need to perpetuate the myth that voter fraud is in the millions,” he said. “It exists, but only in isolated cases.”
Unreliable Numbers. If history is any guide, Husted’s claim of 385 registered non-citizens will fall apart on closer scrutiny. In 2012, Husted “identified” 145 non-citizens registered to vote. However, Ohio prosecutors subsequently undertook only 17 investigations, and charges were ultimately brought against only four individuals, who pled guilty. (Given his success rate at identifying illegal voters, you would think Husted would tone down the self-congratulations.)
Moreover, there have been no such investigations yet of the individuals on Mr. Husted’s recent list, and it is therefore premature to assert definitively that these individuals are actually non-citizens. One of the reasons prosecutions under these circumstances are so low is that, often times, individuals identified as potential non-citizens turn-out to have been recently naturalized, and therefore, have every right to register and vote. Per Mr. Husted’s statement, the state used information from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles to generate this list of alleged non-citizens. Data from the state motor vehicle departments, however, is often out of date. Individuals who are non-citizens when they obtain their licenses may then become citizens, but then not update their citizenship status with the DMV until their license expires. (In Ohio, it is only necessary to renew your driver’s license every 4 years.)