Ohio Sees Fierce Fight Over Voter Rolls

Ohio could be the deciding factor for who wins the White House, and the fight over voting rights is fierce.


President Obama in Columbus, Ohio.

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According to the Pew Charitable Trust, there are more than 24 million invalid voter registrations, 1.8 million dead voters on the rolls, and 2.75 million Americans registered in more than one state.

True the Vote says the outdated voter roles could lead to voter fraud.

"Ohioans are constantly in the limelight due to the impact of their votes in national elections," says Catherine Engelbrecht, president of True the Vote. "It's important that they not lose sight of their rights to observe elections and ensure that their voter rolls are properly maintained."

But some voting experts say the consequences of invalid voters on the rolls are minor.

"The registration rolls are a mess," says Rick Hasen, a law professor at Loyola Law school who is the author of the Election Law Blog. "The problem is that they are not updated, but that doesn't mean there is a lot of fraud going on. It means there is a lot of voter roles that need to be cleared up."

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The Ohio Voter Integrity Project has identified hundreds of what it claims are questionable registrations in 13 counties across the state, nine of which were places where Obama beat Republican challenger John McCain in 2008.

In Franklin County, where Ohio State University is located, the group brought 308 registration forms to an election board meeting asking for them to be reviewed. The board cleared the list, saying many were student voter registration forms that didn't violate registration rules.

"They came out and challenged more than 300 people when voter challenges are usually limited to one or two in a typical board meeting," says Ben Piscitelli, the public information officer for the Franklin County Election Board. "Voter registration fraud is very rare in Franklin County. Prior to that, we have had five cases brought forward."

True the Vote's efforts in places like Ohio caught the attention of Maryland Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, earlier this month.

Cummings has sent two letters to Engelbrecht demanding documents related to the group's plans to deploy thousands of poll watchers to precincts around the country on election day.

Cummings suspects True the Vote is trying to help Republicans.

"There have been reports from multiple states during the past two years that your organization is targeting predominantly minority communities and coordinating with the Republican Party in an attempt to intimidate legitimate voters," Cummings wrote. "If you are truly committed to transparency in our nation's voting process—and if you continue to deny that your organization is challenging thousands of legitimate voters across the country for partisan political purposes—then you should have no reason to withhold documents from Congress about your activities."

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Cummings says True the Vote has a money trail leading to Republicans, citing a donation the group made in August to the Republican State Leadership Committee.

True the Vote maintains it is a nonpartisan advocacy group, and says they are happy to meet with Cummings to explain their mission. But they have so far declined to hand over documents he's requested.

"It's unfortunate to witness private, citizen engagement attacked," Engelbrecht says. "When [lawmakers] attack constituents with a faulty understanding of state law, we abandon our very democracy and the transparency that we rely on as a free people."

Ohio Secretary of State Husted says that despite the oversight committee's concerns, his staff is not worried about True the Vote's efforts in Ohio.

"We have not seen them act in any way that would be inconsistent with what they are allowed to do under the laws," he says.

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