A Plain City woman who unwittingly voted illegally in the 2012 presidential election will avoid criminal prosecution, following action by the Madison County Board of Elections on Tuesday, Feb. 11.
Board members voted 3 to 1 against referring the case to county prosecutor Steve Pronai. The prosecutor has confirmed he will not pursue the case.
The woman’s story illustrates the problem when U.S. immigration and election laws clash, according to Tim Ward, executive director of the election board.
Ward said in many ways the local woman is the victim of a system riddled with flaws.
A nine-year resident of the U.S., the Plain City woman is not actually a citizen, and therefore, ineligible to vote.
But, she does have both a Social Security number and a “green card” that allows her to work. She obtained both legally.
It was efforts to renew the “green card” that first alerted the woman to her 2012 illegal vote, Ward said.
A question on the renewal form asked: “Have you ever voted in an election?”
The woman answered an honest “yes” and was told to cancel her registration at the local election board.
Her cancellation request raised a red flag with Ward who recounted the story to the full board. The board, in turn, sought advice from both Pronai and Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted for handling the admission.
During the Feb. 11 hearing at the election board office, the woman testified her name ended up on county voter registration lists after she signed a 2011 petition in support of a local liquor option in the Plain City East Precinct.
A canvasser knocked on her door with the petition, and, based on the woman’s Social Security card, assumed she was a citizen. The canvasser then registered her with the county election board.
Ward said the procedure is legal and routinely done in Ohio. Unfortunately, many canvassers are paid employees who are unfamiliar with the neighborhoods and people they solicit.
Once the woman’s name appeared on voter registration lists, a variety of candidates began seeking her support. One of those candidates was President Barack Obama.
A 2012 solicitation letter from the Obama Campaign only confirmed the Plain City woman’s belief she was an eligible voter and spurred her to cast a ballot. It was the only time she ever voted, Ward said.
Matt McClellan, a spokesperson for Husted, said similar cases are rare in Ohio.
Out of 5.6 million votes cast in Ohio during the 2012 election, Husted’s office has thus far investigated 625 cases of voter irregularity.
Of the 625,270 were referred to local or state law enforcement officials after local election boards reviewed the evidence. Twenty involved individuals who voted in Ohio and other states.
Only 17 cases of non-citizens who voted illegally went to attorney general Mike DeWine’s office for possible criminal prosecution.
“Where we find fraud, we will hold the person accountable,” McClellan said.
Jane Beathard can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 16 or via Twitter @JaneBeathard.