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Politically Speaking is WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson's column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us.

Analysis: LaRose found 137 non-citizens registered to vote. It's not as serious as it sounds

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose speaks to the Fairfield County Lincoln Republican Club in Pickerington, Ohio, Thursday, March 24, 2022.
Paul Vernon
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose speaks to the Fairfield County Lincoln Republican Club in Pickerington, Ohio, Thursday, March 24, 2022.


That is the number of registered voters in Ohio as of May 10.

Last week, with some considerable fanfare, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced he had scoured the voting rolls and found some non-citizens registered to vote.

A whopping 137 of them. Out of over 8 million.

That's 0.0017%.

Since LaRose took over the secretary of state's office in 2019, it has referred 521 non-citizens for possible prosecution. Of those, only one was charged with voter fraud.

Even LaRose — the chief elections officer of Ohio — seems to have doubts that his efforts to root out non-citizen voters will amount to much.

"These may be well-meaning people trying to pursue the American dream," LaRose said in a press release. "And communication barriers sometimes result in a registration form being submitted in error. We need to help them get that cleared up before an accidental registration becomes an illegal vote that could result in a felony conviction or even deportation."

But that hasn't stopped LaRose from banging the drum about non-citizens voting on conservative media outlets like Fox News, talking about Ohio being the "gold standard" of election integrity and throwing shade on states where the process is controlled by Democrats.

"We take this more seriously in Ohio than some places," LaRose said recently on the network.

"I think that in some states, particularly with Democratic secretaries of state, they don't take this as seriously; and they're not doing the work to maintain the accuracy of their voter rolls," LaRose said.

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Then he threw proper dental care into the mix.

"It's like hygiene," he said. "You've got to brush your teeth every day. Elections administrators should be working on list maintenance every day."

Before this year, all LaRose could do about non-citizens being registered to vote was to refer them for possible prosecution. That almost never happened, presumably because a county prosecutor found nothing to prosecute — attempting to vote as a non-citizen is illegal; filling out a form is not.

Last year, Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly passed a law requiring the secretary of state to cross-check Bureau of Motor Vehicles records with Ohio's voter registration database to find non-citizens who registered to vote at BMV offices — where everyone who shows up for a driver's license gets handed a voter registration card.

The new law empowers election officials to cancel the registrations they find.

All of the 137 found by LaRose submitted documents to the BMV such as green cards.

The secretary of state's office will now send two written notices to the 137 asking them to confirm they are citizens or to cancel their registrations voluntarily.

Those who don't respond will have their voter registrations cancelled by their county boards of elections, even if they might be legally allowed to vote since becoming a naturalized citizen.

David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation Research, a non-partisan, nonprofit organization, said that while Ohio does a good job of finding the small group of non-citizens, he thinks the two-letter approach is wrong.

"A more rational way of approaching these 137 people is by simply asking them if they want to be removed from the voting rolls, or have they become naturalized citizens since registering at the BMV," Becker said.

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Furthermore, he says, it makes no sense for people who are non-citizens, whether they are here legally or not, to attempt to vote.

"These are people who, in many cases, have risked life and limb to be here in this country, people seeking a better life," Becker said. "They know that if they try to vote illegally, they could be charged with a crime and possibly deported."

It seems to Becker that GOP election officials in many states, including Ohio, are pursuing cases of almost non-existent voting by non-citizens with a hidden agenda.

"They seem to be prepping citizens in the U.S. for the argument that the election was stolen," Becker said. "There are people out there who want to de-legitimize an election because their candidate lost.

"There is a legitimate question about whether or not this issue of non-citizens voting is more about politics than policy," Becker said. "And I think that it is."

Corrected: May 22, 2024 at 1:26 PM EDT
This article has been updated with the correct percentage of non-citizen registered voters in Ohio.
Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.