Did 17 Illegal Voters in Ohio Steal the 2012 Election?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 19 2013 9:16 AM

Did 17 Illegal Voters in Ohio Steal the 2012 Election?

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President Romney, in a world without 17 illegal Ohio voters.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The headline from Fox News is chilling, especially at this moment when most Americans regret putting Barack Obama back in the Oval Office. "Non-citizens caught voting in 2012 presidential election in key swing state," reports Eric Shawn. What are the gruesome details?

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Wednesday that his office found 17 non-citizens illegally cast ballots in the 2012 presidential election -- and has referred the case for possible prosecution... Husted also found that 274 non-citizens remain on the voting rolls. President Obama beat Mitt Romney in Ohio by just 2 percentage points in November 2012.
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Did you catch that, how Shawn pivoted from the number of total votes to the percentage of votes? Why would he do that? Without reading his mind, I'd guess it's because the actual Ohio margin between Obama and Romney last year was 166,272 votes, and Shawn wants to keep his readers as ignorant as posssible. Seventeen votes represents 0.0003 percent of the total of ballots cast for either Obama or Romney in the state, and 0.01 percent of the margin.

Reporters who are brighter and less dishonest than Shawn have come away from the Husted data with a different take. There was, according to Husted, no plot to steal votes or fake votes in the 2012 election. The noncitizens who voted had driver's licenses, so basic voter ID laws wouldn't have stopped them. That's not surprising, given that Husted's last update in the voter fraud investigation, in May, revealed a total of 135 possible fraud cases.

It's been a bad week for investigations like these. In Iowa, Jason Noble reported that a two-year fraud investigation had come up with 16 cases worth looking into. That was proportionately lower than Husted's original finding in Ohio, and both investigations found many, many fewer suspicious ballots than there are ballots spoiled for some reason in any election. One count of Ohio's ballots in 2004 found that 239,127 were spoiled somehow—missing chads, errant ink marks, etc.

The situation's improved since then, but there remain many, many more votes lost because of flawed ballots or attritition from long lines than votes canceled out out by the confirmed ballot of a noncitizen. And a great deal of legal work has come up dry in the hunt for the mythical "buses of illegal voters" being spirited in from cities or campuses to stuff the polls.

But if you just read Fox, you've learned that the voter fraud problem is very real. 

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.