CANTON, OH — OCTOBER 13: Ohio Auditor of State Keith Faber, at a Stark County Republicans campaign event October 13, 2022, at the Madison Gesiotto Gilbert campaign office, Canton, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal)

BY: MARTY SCHLADEN – Ohio Capital Journal

Ohio Auditor Keith Faber last Tuesday told members of the Westerville Tea Party that it was unlikely that widespread fraud occurs in Ohio elections.

But that didn’t stop him from holding out a sinister possibility: that the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections might be diverting special voting-machine paper to other states where unscrupulous elements might use them to produce unsolicited, fraudulent ballots.

For his part, the director of the board of elections there said his office was doing no such thing and that the state auditor’s office had never contacted his agency about the matter.

With Republicans holding all statewide offices except the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, officials like Faber are in a tight spot when it comes to election fraud.

Former President Donald Trump continues to falsely claim that he was cheated out of the presidency in 2020 by a rigged election. And now, other Republican candidates are mimicking his past behavior by refusing to say whether they’ll accept the results if they lose on Nov. 8.

Experts say such talk is crippling our democracy by undermining faith in its most basic process. Indeed, about 70% of Republicans believe the 2020 presidential election was rigged despite Trump’s epic failure to produce any evidence of that.

So Ohio’s elected Republicans have a base that’s deeply skeptical of elections at the same time that those officials are running them. 

Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the official responsible for administering elections, has hyped the possibility of cheating while simultaneously touting how extremely rare it’s been in elections he’s run. In February, LaRose slammed the media for supposedly downplaying voter fraud just after he found just the possibility of one fraudulent vote for every 222,000 cast in Ohio in 2020.

Faber, the state auditor, seemed to be trying to take a similar tack last week when a member of the Tea Party audience asked him if he audited elections.

According to an audio recording of the session, Faber said that it was the job of the secretary of state to audit elections, but the state auditor could look at other things handled by county boards of election, such as their money. He added that his office investigated some of those matters in the wake of the 2020 election.

Faber told the crowd that while he believes it’s hard to cheat in Ohio elections, that might not be the case elsewhere.

“What I found out is the paper, the paper we use to vote in Ohio, OK, is special paper,” he said. “You need special paper to run the machines. But there really wasn’t ever any inventory done on the paper, OK? And so that supply if you audit that, we’re going to start doing a count. If you ordered 100 (thousand) sheets of paper and you only voted 20,000 people, you better have 80,000 sheets left.”

He added, “And so we started asking those questions. And I wasn’t really worried because of the difficulty in Ohio of creating extra fake ballots because of the controls. But there was nothing to say the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections who ordered a million sheets of paper didn’t somehow quietly drop off 50,000 of them over here in (another state.) Because the paper is the same from machine to machine and state to state and so we started asking those questions. And I talked to a number of people at local boards of elections and said if you’re going to cheat, what would you do? And so we started looking at that. So the short answer is no. I don’t audit the election.” 

Faber’s office was asked if it will audit voting-machine paper used in the Nov. 8 election, and if it did, whether it would do so in all 88 Ohio counties. 

“The Auditor of State’s Office regularly audits all of Ohio’s counties for fiscal and operational controls,” the emailed reply said. “These engagements include boards of elections. These most recent audits included an examination, after consultation with the Secretary of State’s Office, of a number of board of elections’ required policies and procedures. While no significant findings were issued, a number of minor discrepancies were identified at boards of elections across Ohio. Those discrepancies and the Auditor’s recommendations to address them are included in counties’ publicly accessible audit reports.”

Faber’s staff was also asked whether he had any reason to suspect that Cuyahoga County — the most racially and ethnically diverse in Ohio — had or was planning to sneak voting-machine paper out of state for use in fraudulent voting.

The communications staff didn’t address that question. Nor did it address whether there was any evidence that the kind of voting fraud Faber described had ever been done anywhere in the United States.

Anthony Perlatti, director of Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, said in a phone interview Tuesday that his office isn’t handing ballot paper in the way Faber described. He said his agency uses a third-party vendor to print ballots.

“In terms of having piles and piles of blank ballot stock at our offices, we don’t have that,” he said, explaining that the vendor prints off of massive rolls of paper. “I’ve never heard of people sending blank ballot stock elsewhere for people to try to manufacture ballots. It doesn’t make any sense to me. We definitely don’t do it in Cuyahoga County.”

Perlatti added that his agency keeps track of the ballots it handles.

“We send (the already-printed ballots) out to the polling locations,” he said. “When they come back, we do an inventory of what have that is unused and what we haven that is used, so this doesn’t really make a whole lost of sense to me.”

Asked if Faber’s office contacted the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections to learn how it uses ballot stock, Perlatti said, “No. We really, from an elections standpoint, we really don’t have much interaction at all with the auditor’s office. The auditor’s office comes in more so with county in general on things like payroll and county procurement.”

Faber’s office did say that the state auditor believed the 2020 presidential election was on the up and up. Faber “has consistently stated that Ohio’s elections are some of the best run in the country and that Joe Biden is the President of the United States,” his office said.

To the Ohio Democratic Party, Faber’s statements to the Westerville Tea Party amounted to pandering.

“Add Keith Faber to the list of GOP politicians who are pandering to MAGA Republicans and dabbling in conspiracy theories in order to further their own political ambitions,” spokesman Matt Keyes said in an email. “Keith Faber knows better, but is more focused on shamefully clinging to power than being honest with the voters of Ohio.” 

Trump-driven falsehoods about election integrity have led to widespread attacks on election workers, including “terroristic threats.” But Perlatti said that elections officials are “unique people.”

“We have tremendous pride in our work,” he said. “We have tremendous integrity in what we do. We know that we’re doing the right thing and doing it with the product we produce, which is an accurate, correct, open, accessible, fair election which is one of the fundamental things that this country is based upon.”

Follow Marty Schladen on Twitter.

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He’s won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.

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