A few cases of voter fraud in Hamilton County, but officials say no chance of rigged election here

CINCINNATI -- Hamilton County elections officials uncovered three dead people who had been registered to vote in the past several weeks.

While elections officials are quick to point out the rarity of voter fraud – three cases out of more than 50,000 newly registered or re-registered voters in Hamilton County this election cycle -- any mention of fraud is garnering more attention this fall following accusations from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that the election is “rigged” against him.

“It certainly is getting more noise because of Donald Trump’s bizarre suggestions that the election is rigged," said Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman Tim Burke. "It’s not. We will here in Hamilton County conduct an election with integrity that’s accurately counted.”

Teams of Democrats and Republicans work together at polls and voting machines in Hamilton County. In fact, every room in the county board of elections building that houses vote-counting equipment has two locks on each door – one for a Democratic key and one for a Republican key. The doors can only be opened if someone from both parties is present.

Even Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou isn’t worried about widespread fraud.

“I have complete confidence that the election will not be rigged or marred by serious fraud,” said Triantafilou, who is also a board of elections member. “However, there is fraud – it does exist – we’re working to root it out.”

Elections officials check voter registrations against death certificates – that’s how they found the three recent cases of fraud.

The Ohio Democratic Party turned in a voter registration for Vincent Bankhead, who was shot and killed in Over-the-Rhine six years ago.

The Amos Project turned in a voter registration for businessman and community leader Howard Bond, who died last year at 77.

And elections officials don’t have a record of who submitted the registration form for deceased Leslie Youngblood at their office on October 11, the last day to register to vote.

“This is not a mistake; they did not forget they moved. This is fraudulent,” an upset Ronicha LaRoche told the county election board at their Oct. 11 meeting.

Alex Triantafilou and Tim Burke, both members of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, at a meeting on October 11, 2016.

She received a post card addressed to Bond at her home as notification of his voter registration. She knew that his family had lived in her house years ago, so she immediately called the board of elections.

“Whoever registered this person it’s fraudulent; it’s voter fraud,” LaRoche said.

Elections officials will issue subpoenas for documents related to that case and, afterward, “I expect when that’s done that I will vote to refer this case to the prosecutor’s office for further investigation,” Triantafilou said.

In the meantime, officials struck all three dead voters from voting rolls.

These few cases of voter fraud often happen when large organizations hire workers to go into neighborhoods and register people to vote. Their pay is based on how many registrations they turn in, and the organizations have no way of monitoring their activity, said Caleb Faux, a member of the Hamilton County Board of Elections and executive director of the county’s Democratic party.

“All three of those (dead voter cases) came from totally different sources so there’s no indication at all that there is any organized effort to do this,” Burke said.

And election officials here are diligent.

In one recent case, a two-person team (one Democrat and one Republican) went to the address listed for a suspected dead voter and spoke to the deceased’s mother to confirm the death, Burke said.

Voters in Hamilton County on Election Day in 2015.

That’s why Triantafilou doesn’t believe this a widespread problem. It is unlikely that fraudulent voters would actually make it to the polls to cast a ballot anyway because each voter must show identification.

Statistics on voter fraud and voter impersonation are controversial, but a 2014 article in the Washington Post asserts that the incidence of either is relatively low: Its experts found 31 credible cases out of more than 1 billion ballots.

Yet a few have happened in Hamilton County.

In 2012, a poll worker was convicted of casting illegal ballots in support of President Barack Obama, including one for her sister who was in a coma. A judge sentenced her to five years in prison, but she was released early.

Two others were also convicted of illegal voting in 2012: A nun who voted by absentee ballot on behalf of her dead roommate and a widower who submitted the absentee ballot of his recently dead wife.

“All of those are very unusual circumstances,” Burke said. “And obviously nothing that would have effected the result of a major election.”

It would be impossible to rig an election here, said Burke, who is also chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party. 

“There is no way because our election system is not on the internet," he said. "You can’t hack into our system."

Voters in Hamilton County on Election Day in 2015.

When votes are counted, both a Democrat and a Republican are present at each machine, and members of both parties are at each polling spot.

“If something is going to be rigged, it would require that both Democrats and Republicans cooperate in doing that, and that’s not going to happen,” Faux said.

And after each election, officials audit several precincts and count paper ballots to make sure the machines correctly tabulated the votes.

There is also a paper trail to rely on, Faux said.

“Here everything is done on a bipartisan basis. In every polling place there are an equal number Democrats and Republicans,” Burke said. “If someone is unexpectedly hospitalized on Election Day, if requested, we will send a team of a Democrat and a Republican to the hospital.”

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