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Ohio: No evidence of plot to register non-citizen voters

Seventeen non-citizens voted in Ohio last year, Secretary of State John Husted said. The news comes as Republicans plan a slew of new voting restrictions.
Voters wait in line outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in Cleveland, Ohio on the final day of early voting Nov. 5, 2012.
Voters wait in line outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in Cleveland, Ohio on the final day of early voting Nov. 5, 2012. 

Seventeen non-citizens voted in the November 2012 election in Ohio, Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Wednesday morning, but he acknowledged that there’s no evidence of an organized effort to register non-citizens.

“It exists, it’s rare, violators will be held accountable,” Husted said of non-citizen voting during a press conference at his Columbus office. Around 5.63 million total votes were cast in the election.

The announcement comes as state Republicans are preparing to pass a slew of voting restrictions next month. 

In addition to the 17 non-citizens who voted, another 274 non-citizens registered to vote, added Husted, a Republican. He said they all had provided paperwork to the state’s motor vehicles department, both before and after the November 2012 election, demonstrating their non-citizenship status. But he allowed that some of the 274 could have become citizens since registering.

Husted said the 17 cases would be turned over to the Attorney General’s office for possible prosecution. All 17 non-citizen voters are in the U.S. legally, he noted.

A voter ID requirement would not have stopped any of the 17 from voting, since they all had driver's licenses, Husted said. He added that there’s nothing that points to an organized conspiracy of non-citizen voting.

“This seems to be an act of individuals,” he said. “There does not seem to be any evidence of a concerted effort to register non-citizens."

That raises the question of why Husted -- not known as a friend of voting rights -- held a press conference to tout the findings. Republicans in a number of states have seized on non-citizen voting to justify restrictive voting measures.

The findings were released as Ohio Republicans plot a slew of bills that would make voting harder in the Buckeye State, especially for minorities and the poor. Bills that would cut early voting and end same-day registration are likely to pass next month, and voter ID legislation is said to be under consideration. Last week, lawmakers passed a measure that makes it easier for Husted to remove voters from the rolls, and the measure could lead to longer lines at the polls.

Matthew McClellan, a spokesman for Husted, told msnbc the goal was to avoid the issue being mischaracterized.

“Being the Secretary of State of Ohio, we’ve learned that when you just kind of put information out there, it’s also helpful to be the one delivering your own message,” McClellan said. “Because others will try to fill that area and may not present the facts as accurately as they should be.”

In May, Husted acknowledged that voter fraud, too, is rare. He said 135 possible voter fraud cases had been referred to prosecutors.