CINCINNATI - Cincinnati was ground zero for the candidates in last fall's presidential election, and now it's ground zero for a partisan debate about the prevalence of voter fraud.
As the Hamilton County Board of Elections investigates 19 possible instances of fraud at the polls in November, a board member who also is chairman of the local GOP appeared on Fox News Channel Sunday to discuss the situation.
Alex Triantafilou, Hamilton County Republican Party chairman, said he hopes that a Madisonville resident who admits to voting twice and may have cast absentee ballots for others in her house is "prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
Triantafilou appeared on the conservative-leaning cable TV network, which is known for its frequent coverage of potential voter fraud nationwide.
Fox host Eric Shawn opened Triantafilou's segment by stating, "Voting for President Obama once, twice, three, four times, maybe more? That's the possibility in Cincinnati."
Shawn referred to a case involving Melowese Richardson, a local resident who voted an absentee ballot on Nov. 1, then voted again at the polls on Nov. 6.
Earlier this month, Richardson told 9 On Your Side that she voted twice because she was afraid her absentee ballot would not be counted in time.
But Richardson also is being investigated for possibly casting absentee ballots on behalf of her granddaughter and three other people who live in her Madisonville home – Montez Richardson, Markus Barron and Joseph Jones.
The granddaughter, India Simone Richardson, also voted at the polls on Election Day. "I assume she forgot or was just excited, and she went to the polls herself," Melowese Richardson said.
Additionally, the board is investigating allegations Richardson was disruptive when she worked as a poll worker at the Madisonville Recreation Center and hid items from other poll workers.
"We're investigating this as we should, we're investigating it thoroughly," Triantafilou told Shawn. "We're going to make a recommendation to the local prosecutor's office and hope this case gets firmly prosecuted."
At that point, Fox News played part of a 9 On Your Side interview with Richardson , in which she said there was no intent to commit voter fraud. "I, after registering thousands of people, certainly wanted my vote to count. So, I voted. I voted at the poll," she told 9 On Your Side.
Shawn criticized Richardson's defense and asked for Triantafilou's response.
"I disagree with her. In this case, she could've voted up to six times," Triantafilou said. "That's a real problem. We think it's a felony."
In all, Hamilton County officials reviewed 80 suspicious cases stemming from the November election, narrowing them down to 19 for a more complete investigation.
A total of 421,997 votes were cast in Hamilton County during the Nov. 6 election.
President Obama got 219,927 votes in the county, compared to 193,326 for Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
A difference of 26,601 votes separated the candidates. Obama won the county and the state of Ohio, which is widely credited with securing his reelection.
Several studies have found that documented instances of voter fraud in national elections are rare.
For example, a U.S. Justice Department study conducted during the George W. Bush administration in 2006 found out of the 197 million votes cast for federal candidates between 2002 and 2005, only 40 voters were indicted for voter fraud. Only 26 of those cases resulted in guilty pleas -- or 0.00000013 percent.
Triantafilou conceded on Fox the alleged instances in Hamilton County wouldn't have changed the election's outcome.
"We're not going to talk about whether the outcome of the election would've changed," he told the host. "We're going to talk about trying to root out serious fraud that's occurred and prosecuting felony criminal conduct."
Still, Fox News frequently reports on voter fraud allegations and encourages its viewers to submit incidents they find suspicious.
That level of coverage may affect the perceptions of Fox's viewers. A recent, unscientific poll on the Fox website found 80.2 percent of respondents thought there was a "significant amount" of voter fraud, and 11.8 percent thought there was a "moderate amount."
But Tim Burke, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, noted it was election officials who uncovered and investigated the incidents here.
"The amount of voter fraud remains infinitesimal," said Burke, who also sits on the Board of Elections. "There is no evidence of any organized to encourage such conduct. These instances were all detected by our staff as a part of their regular review.
"Our review system is set up to capture instances of voters casting both an (absentee) ballot and a ballot at the polls. Only one is counted," Burke added. "We did have two instances in which we know that two votes were in fact counted."
The local Board of Elections uses a team of four people, one of who is a retired police criminal investigator, to contact voters in questionable incidents.
of the 80 instances, the team concluded elderly voters simply forgot they had voted absentee ballots when they also voted at the polls on Election Day, Burke said. Their votes at the polls weren't counted, because poll workers caught the glitch and told those people to vote using provisional ballots until it could be cleared up.
"All of us on the board take voter fraud very seriously," Burke said. "While the amount of voter fraud remains very small and there is no reason to believe it has altered the results in any election, any fraud is too much. We will deal with it."
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