Lorain County Community Organizer Awaits Trial For Voter Fraud
A prominent Lorain County community organizer and former city official awaits trial for voter fraud in Elyria, court records show. Robert J. Gilchrist, executive director of the Lorain County Community Action Agency, was arrested and indicted in June 2012 on charges of voting with a false address in four separate elections between 2009 and 2011.
Gilchrist has been charged with violations of section 3599.12 of the Ohio Revised Code, which states that “no person shall [ ] vote or attempt to vote in any primary, special, or general election in a precinct in which that person is not a legally qualified elector.” Illegal voting is a fourth-degree felony, with each charge carrying up to 18 months of jail time.
According to The Morning Journal, Gilchrist moved from one side of Lorain to the other in 2009, but continued to use an outdated drivers’ license for several years in order to maintain residence in his previous voting ward.
Gilchrists alleged voter fraud was discovered when a local political candidate planning a door-to-door campaign noticed the discrepancy and alerted authorities.
During the initial investigation, Gilchrist’s supporters accused the Lorain County Board of Elections of racism. One man claimed the Board of Elections “looked like a Ku Klux Klan meeting.”
Gilchrist maintains that he never intended to violate Ohio election laws in four separate elections, and accused investigators of engaging in a witch-hunt. In July, he asked reporters from the Chronicle-Telegram, “whats next? Do they want to see my birth certificate saying I was born in the United States?”
Ohio election workers are required to ask voters for proof of identification in the form of a drivers’ license, utility bill, or military identification card, current election laws are somewhat limited in verifying that voters actually reside at the address they claim. If a voter does not volunteer that they have moved, poll workers are prevented from independently verifying the accuracy of voter information.
This policy can be traced to recommendations made by former Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, who released a 2009 report encouraging lawmakers to focus “solely on verifying personal identification, not voting address.”
Gilchrist hired Brunner as his attorney in June. Court records show that she was excused from the pending case on August 21.
As Ohio’s chief elections official, Brunner was criticized by election integrity experts for her efforts to relax election regulations. Brunner, a Democrat, was named in the 2008 corrupt activities case which resulted in the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) ceasing all business in the state of Ohio. ACORN partner Project Vote has celebrated some of the policy changes proposed and implemented by Brunner.
According to court records, Gilchrist is scheduled to appear in court for a pre-trial hearing on November 8, 2012.
The Lorain County Community Action Agency made headlines this summer for distributing free air conditioners to “low- and moderate-income families” through the federally-funded Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP).