By David Skolnick
A state criminal agency is investigating what appears to be 25 to 30 fraudulent voter-registration applications, including from five dead people, filed with the Columbiana County Board of Elections by the Ohio Organizing Collaborative.
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is “conducting an investigation of questionable voter registrations,” said Dan Tierney, spokesman for the state attorney general’s office, which oversees the agency.
The investigation is of a person paid by the OOC to get people to register to vote, Tierney said.
The Columbiana County Board of Elections contacted its county’s sheriff’s department after discovering a number of problems with petitions, said Adam Booth, elections chairman. The sheriff’s department then contacted BCI.
“It was clearly fraudulent and forged when you have five people who died 10 years ago,” Booth said. “The forms were riddled with errors and all tied to this group. You can tell the same person filled out some of the same forms and forged signatures. There are wrong dates of births and wrong addresses on others. It became a pattern.”
There also were two registration forms from the same person, but the signatures were completely different, he said.
“It’s wrong and bad and fraudulent,” Booth said. “They were riddled with errors and all tied to this group.”
OOC turned in about 500 registration forms in Columbiana County, Booth said.
Booth said the OOC “gave us contact information of the people involved. As a group, they are cooperating.”
In a prepared statement, Laurie Couch, spokeswoman for the Youngstown-based OOC, wrote: “Unfortunately, it has come to our attention that a number of voter registration cards filed in Columbiana County appear to have been fabricated. The individuals responsible are no longer employed by the OOC and their supervisor has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. We are conducting a thorough internal investigation into the incident and working closely with the Columbiana County Sheriff’s Office and the board of elections to fully support their investigation. In fewer than 24 hours, we have provided every piece of documentation requested by the sheriff’s office.”
She added in the prepared statement: “The OOC takes allegations like this seriously because we take civic engagement seriously. We have a responsibility to ensure that as many Ohioans as possible are registered to vote and participating in each election. We are committed to resolving this issue immediately and effectively.”
When asked how many people were involved, Couch said that it “appears that one canvasser either fabricated cards or turned in fabricated cards.”
OOC submitted 784 voter registration forms in Mahoning County, including more than 300 that were of supposed registered Columbiana County voters.
Of those submitted by the OOC to Mahoning County, one was of a woman who didn’t register to vote, said Joyce Kale-Pesta, Mahoning elections director.
The woman contacted the board after receiving a postcard about her registration and polling location, Kale-Pesta said.
“It wasn’t her birthday and it wasn’t her signature” on the form, Kale-Pesta said.
The matter was turned over to the sheriff’s department, which will start an investigation today, said Sheriff Jerry Greene.
There were problems with at least 25 forms submitted by the OOC in Trumbull County – primarily addresses that don’t exist or information that couldn’t be read – but nothing “fraudulent,” said Stephanie Penrose, that county’s elections director.
Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges said, “For all the hard work Republicans and [Secretary of State] Jon Husted have done for fair elections, to have these kinds of things going on this early in the process is disturbing. It is our job to sound the alarm, and we’re pointing out to other boards of elections in other counties that this is happening. There are people out there registering dead people.”
The OOC, created in 2007, focuses on “social, racial and economic justice in Ohio,” according to its website.
Among its campaigns are immigration reform, providing assistance to former prisoners, and increasing the number of registered voters among students, blacks, Latinos and seniors in four targeted counties: Mahoning, Trumbull, Summit and Montgomery.