Elections chief suspects voter fraud

Published 10:12 am Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Secretary of State seeks criminal investigation

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted wants the attorney general and the Lawrence County Prosecutor to determine if a group of Democrats attempted voter fraud in the 2010 general election.

If so, it could mean prison time and a fine for anyone convicted of these crimes.

On Tuesday Husted turned over to Mike DeWine and J.B. Collier the findings of his investigation into the applications of 119 Lawrence County absentee ballots for further review and possible prosecution.

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“There was an attempt to violate the election law with the attempt to cast and count fraudulent votes,” Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said in an interview with The Tribune on Tuesday. “If we didn’t believe there were irregularities that amounted to a violation of law we would not have referred it to the attorney general and the county prosecutor.”

The next step is for the county prosecutor to do the first review, Collier said.

“If it is appropriate we will pursue criminal charges,” he said.

Violations of these election laws are fourth degree felonies, which carry a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison and $5,000 fine for each conviction.

Sent to boxes

At issue are applications for absentee ballots that were sent to two post office boxes — 42 were sent to a box in the name of Ironton resident Charles Maynard and 77 were sent to a box in the name of Russell Bennett of Chesapeake during the fall of 2010.

“Of the 77 absentee ballot applications marked to be sent to Russ Bennett’s P.O. Box, 68 reportedly were hand-delivered to the Lawrence County Board of Elections office by a man named Butch Singer,” according to the letter sent to Mike DeWine and J.B. Collier.

In October a board of elections employee noticed that the handwriting in the “Send Ballot To” portion of the applications differed from that in the section with the voter’s name. The board then contacted 10 voters to see where they wanted their ballot sent.

“All 10 voters replied that they wanted their ballots mailed to them at their home address, suggesting that the ‘Send Ballot To’ portion of the absentee ballot application was completed after the voters filled in their application form,” Husted’s letter states.

Brunner starts investigation

In January a report on the investigation into the ballots, originally requested and overseen by then Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, was turned over to Husted, who took office that month.

Husted continued reviewing information, sending an investigator to take affidavits from county residents. From that investigation the secretary of state said in his letter there could be several possible elections law violations that would be fourth degree felonies.

“The Lawrence County Board of Elections staff deserves a lot of credit in this for making sure when they saw something that appeared to be out of line, they did their due diligence,” Husted said in the interview. “It was investigated and voters were contacted. So efforts to cast and count illegal ballots were stopped. We don’t believe any illegal ballots were cast and counted.”

No one charged

Currently there are no charges filed against any one named in the letter and no formal accusation has been made.

According to the Ohio Revised Code “no person shall knowingly make a false representation in order to obtain an absent voter’s ballot,” the letter states. “Only a voter may request his or her absentee ballot be sent to another address. In the case of Russell Bennett’s post office box, testimony suggest that Butch Singer, (County Treasurer) Steve Burcham, Steve Burcham’s wife and (Democratic Party committeeman) Don Simmons falsely represented on absent voter’s applications that the voter wanted his or her ballot sent to Russell Bennett’s post office box. Interviews of some absentee ballot applicants showed that voters intended their ballots to arrive at their home addresses.”

A second election law states that no one should knowingly not forward an absentee ballot application to the appropriate election official that the voter entrusted him to do so.

“Testimony from the depositions shows some evidence that people involved in using Russell Bennett’s post office box failed to forward absentee ballot applications to elections officials,” the letter states. “Butch Singer, for example, testified that he gave absentee ballot applications he collected to others before he brought it to the board, dropping them off at different locations for Steven Burcham or Douglas Malone to collect.”

A third election law states that no one shall knowingly possess the absentee ballot of another voter unless the voter is confined or disabled. Then two board employees of the two parties may transport the ballot. Also a family member of someone in the military may take that person’s ballot application to him or her and return the ballot to the board of elections.

“Testimony indicates that Butch Singer, Douglas Malone, Don Simmons and Steve Burcham might have had possession of others’ absentee ballots,” the letter states. “In the case of Charles Maynard’s post office box, there is less ambiguity surrounding the handling of the absentee applications and ballots, as many of the voters whose absentee ballots Mr. Maynard handled knew him personally. Nonetheless, based on testimony provided, Charles Maynard did possess some absentee ballots of voters who were not family members.”

When contacted Burcham declined to make an immediate comment.

“I would really like to see the letter before I comment on that,” he said. “That is all news to me.”

Malone also said he was unaware of the Secretary of State’s letter.

“I never handled any application that had a post office box on it nor did I see any that had an address to a post office box,” he said. “I never saw any applications that were filled out and addressed to a post office box. I was never questioned by secretary of state’s attorneys if I handled ballots, which the answer would have been no. I did not handle any ballots.”

A call made to the home of Simmons was not returned by press time.

Maynard said he had been cleared by investigators of the secretary of state.

“I was told I was allowed for the ballots to come to my post office box, by the board of elections,” Maynard said. “They sent an investigator and they did not find any findings. It was all clear.”

Attempts to contact Singer were unsuccessful.

To read Husted’s entire seven-page letter click HERE.