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Ohio Secretary Of State Says 354 Non-Citizens Voted Or Registered In 2018

voting booths
John Minchillo
Associated Press

Ohio’s Secretary of State says 354 people who are not U.S. citizens registered to vote or cast ballots in 2018. All those people could potentially face state charges. 

Secretary of State Frank LaRose says the discovery came after his office did the annual crosschecks of databases from the 2018 election.

“What it does is it compares the records on file with the Department of Public Safety regarding who is a citizen and who is a non-citizen," LaRose explains. "This is information that’s gained when you show up at the BMV to get a drivers’ license or update your drivers’ license or get a state ID, for example. At that time, you have to show your proof of legal status and would tell the Department of Public Safety whether you are a citizen or not."

LaRose says that check showed that in 2018, 277 non-citizens living in Ohio registered to vote and another 77 actually voted. He says it’s now up to Attorney General Dave Yost to investigate the cases and decide whether these people should face charges. 

For context, a total of 8,070,917 Ohioans voted in the 2018 election, according to the Secretary of State's Office..

Mike Brickner, the Ohio state director for the voting rights group All Voting Is Local, cautions people to withhold judgment at this point.

“Often times it may have just been a simple mistake or a person may have been confused about the system and inadvertently ended up on the voter registration list," Brickner says.

Brickner says if you need proof, just look at what has happened in other states.

“For instance, in the state of Texas last year, their Secretary of State announced he found a very large number of people who were non-citizens on the voter rolls. What later came out is they were using Bureau of Motor Vehicle data that showed that the individuals were non-citizens, but the data was a few years old and wasn’t updated because the people had not been to the BMV to renew their driver’s license and in the interim period, they had become naturalized citizens," Brickner says.

Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, echoes Brickner’s call for caution. She says language barriers often exist, leading to simple misunderstandings, not malicious intent.

Miller also says complicated government systems can make mistakes.

“Even if every one of these is truly an instance of a non-citizen participating in an election, that’s still really small," Miller says. "You are more likely to win the Powerball than witness illegal voting."

For his part, LaRose says his office took some important safeguards to prevent against false accusations.

“They have to have presented information at least twice to say they are not a U.S. citizen. Plus, we do multiple mailings to their home registration address asking them to withdraw their registration if they are not, in fact, a U.S. citizen or if they have become a citizen, to give us proof of that," LaRose says.

Still, LaRose agrees it's important to remember there are 7.6 million Ohioans who are registered to vote.

“Even one instance of voter fraud is one too many, so this is something that we take seriously. And this is something that when someone votes illegally, they are committing a crime," LaRose says.

Previous secretaries of state have found similar numbers of people who shouldn’t have voted or have registered to vote. But only a few dozen people have ever been prosecuted for illegal voting.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.