For the past several weeks, Republican operatives have been stepping up their efforts in critical swing states claiming voter registration groups have been engaged in a massive voter fraud effort in an attempt to influence the outcome of November’s presidential election.
The allegations took on a new sense of urgency Tuesday when law enforcement authorities in Nevada raided the offices of The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), an organization that advocates voter registration and participation among low-income people and minorities.
ACORN members denied any wrongdoing and claimed the probe is politically motivated by Republicans to suppress voter turnout for Barack Obama.
"Today's raid by the Secretary of State's Office is a stunt that serves no useful purpose other than discredit our work registering Nevadans and distracting us from the important work ahead of getting every eligible voter to the polls," said Bertha Lewis, ACORN's interim chief organizer.
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No concrete evidence of systemic voter fraud in the United States has ever surfaced. Many election integrity experts believe claims of voter fraud are a ploy by Republicans to suppress minorities and poor people from voting.
Historically, those groups tend to vote for Democratic candidates. Raising red flags about the integrity of the ballots, experts believe, is an attempt by GOP operatives to swing elections to their candidates as well as an attempt to use the fear of criminal prosecution to discourage individuals from voting in future races.
In March, the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration held a hearing and heard testimony from election integrity experts who said voter fraud is a “myth” and voter identification laws actually disenfranchise legitimate voters.
Indeed, in a column published in the Washington Post last year, Justin Levitt, an attorney and expert on voting issues who teaches at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, and Jeff Milyo, a professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia department of economics, said "the notion of widespread voter fraud... is itself a fraud. Evidence of actual fraud by individual voters is painfully skimpy."
ACORN has long been a target of Republican Party operatives dating as far back as the 2004 presidential election. But the accusations of malfeasance have never been supported by evidence.
Last weekend, investigative reporter Brad Friedman and former Justice Department official and GOP operative Hans Von Spakovsky engaged in a heated debate over voter fraud in a segment on the Tavis Smiley radio show. [Full disclosure: Friedman is a contributor to The Public Record].
Von Spakovsky, Friedman wrote on his blog Wednesday, "was...instrumental in bringing phony "voter fraud" charges, such as those against ACORN workers in Missouri, filed just days before the razor-thin 2006 Senate election, in violation of the DoJ's own written rules against bringing such indictments just prior to elections where they are likely to affect the race."
ACORN and U.S. Attorney Firings
In fact, two of the nine U.S. Attorneys who were fired in 2006 were targeted because they refused to bring criminal charges against individuals affiliated with ACORN, according to interviews and a Justice Department report issued last week on the circumstances behind the federal prosecutor firings. The firing of another U.S. Attorney was due, in large part, to his refusal to convene a grand jury and secure an indictment against individuals for voter fraud.
But it’s the firing of former New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias and the accusations of voter fraud leveled against ACORN by GOP operatives in that state that appeared to be the most egregious case of partisan politics, according to the DOJ report.
Even President George W. Bush said he was concerned about widespread voter fraud, despite the fact that evidence of such crimes was virtually non-existent. Bush, according to the DOJ report, “spoke with Attorney General Gonzales in October 2006 about their concerns over voter fraud in three cities, one of which was Albuquerque, New Mexico.”
In the months leading up to the 2004 presidential election, Bernalillo County in New Mexico had been the target of a massive grassroots effort by ACORN to register voters.
The effort apparently paid off as registration rolls in the county increased by about 65,000 newly registered voters.
But Sheriff Darren White, who was New Mexico chairman of the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign, intended to challenge the integrity of some of the names on the voter registration rolls. Mary Herrera, the Bernalillo County clerk, told White that there were about 3,000 or so forms that were either incomplete or incorrectly filled out.
White seized upon the registration forms as evidence that ACORN submitted fraudulent registration forms and held a press conference along with other Republican officials in the county to call attention to the matter.
In testimony before the Senate committee earlier this year, former New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias said he formed an election fraud task force in September 2004 to probe claims of widespread voter fraud.
In an interview, Iglesias said he fully expected to uncover instances of voter fraud based on numerous stories that appeared in New Mexico media that said minors received voter registration forms and that "a large number" of voter registration forms turned up during the course of a drug raid.
"Due to the high volume of suspected criminal activity, I believed there to be a strong likelihood of uncovering prosecutable cases," Iglesias said. "I also reviewed the hard copy file from the last voter fraud case my office had prosecuted which dated back to 1992.
“My intention was to file prosecutions in order to send a message that voter fraud or election fraud would not be tolerated in the District of New Mexico."
"My announcement of a dedicated task force notwithstanding, the firebrands were still not placated," Iglesias, wrote. "I got an angry e-mail from Mickey Barnett, an attorney, who, like me, had worked on the Bush-Cheney campaign and who berated me for ‘appointing a task force to investigate voter fraud instead of bringing charges against suspects.’"
In his testimony before the Senate committee, Iglesias said the task force received about 108 complaints of alleged voter fraud through a hotline over the course of about eight weeks.
"Most of the complaints made to the hotline were clearly not prosecutable -- citizens would complain of their yard signs being removed from their property and de minimis matters like that," Iglesias testified before the Senate committee.
"Only one case of the over 100 referrals had potential. ACORN had employed a woman to register voters. The evidence showed she registered voters who did not have the legal right to vote. The law, 42 USC 1973 had the maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment and a $5,000 fine.
“After personally reviewing the FBI investigative report and speaking to the agent, the prosecutor I had assigned, Mr. [Rumaldo] Armijo, and conferring with [a Justice Department official] I was of the opinion that the case was not provable. I, therefore, did not authorize a prosecution.
“I have subsequently learned that the State of New Mexico did not file any criminal cases as a result of the" election fraud task force.
Iglesias said that Republican officials in his state were far less interested in election reforms and more intent on suppressing votes.
He recalled that the Justice Department issued a directive to every U.S. Attorney in the country to find and prosecute cases of voter fraud in their states during the height of hotly contested elections in 2002, 2004, and 2006, even though evidence of such abuses was extremely thin or non-existent.
In his recently published book, In Justice: Inside the Scandal that Rocked the Bush Administration, Iglesias said in late summer 2002 he received an email from the Department of Justice suggesting "in no uncertain terms" that U.S. attorneys should immediately begin working with local and state election officials "to offer whatever assistance we could in investigating and prosecuting voter fraud cases."
"The e-mail imperatives came again in 2004 and 2006, by which time I had learned that far from being standard operating procedure for the Justice Department, the emphasis on voter irregularities was unique to the Bush administration," Iglesias said.
The DOJ report said "Iglesias said he wanted to get the message out to his fellow Republicans that he would prosecute “provable” voter fraud cases but would not bring a case unless it could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In a further attempt to defuse the situation, Iglesias called state Republican Party Chairman Weh, and the two met briefly for coffee near Weh’s home on May 6, 2005. Iglesias said he tried to explain to Weh that he wanted to prosecute provable voter fraud cases but could not go forward without sufficient evidence."
As the 2006 elections approached, "Patrick Rogers, the former general counsel to the New Mexico state Republican Party and a party activist, continued to complain about voter fraud issues in New Mexico," according to the report. "In a March 2006 e-mail forwarded to Donsanto in the [DOJ's] Public Integrity Section, Rogers complained about voter fraud in New Mexico and added, “I have calls in, to the
USA and his main assistant, but they were not much help during the ACORN fraudulent registration debacle last election.”
In June 2006, Rogers sent Iglesias's Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Rumaldo Armijo an email:
The voter fraud wars continue. Any indictment of the Acorn woman would be appreciated. . . . The ACLU/Wortheim [sic] democrats will turn to the camera and suggest fraud is not an issue, because the USA would have done something by now. Carpe Diem!
"Carpe Diem" was a reference to the Chairman of the New Mexico Democratic Party at the time, John Wertheim.
Missouri Prosecutor’s Firing
In Missouri, U.S. Attorney Todd Graves was another federal prosecutor who fell into disfavor with the Bush administration because of alleged inaction on voter fraud issues.
Graves would not file criminal charges of voter fraud against four employees of ACORN, according to documents later released by the Justice Department in connection with the fired-prosecutors probe.
Graves also resisted pressure from Justice Department official Bradley Scholzman to file a civil suit against Robin Carnahan, Missouri's Democratic Secretary of State, on charges that Carnahan failed to take action on cases of voter fraud, Graves testified last year before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Graves was forced to resign in March 2006 and was replaced by Schlozman, whom as head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division's voting-rights section had clashed with Graves.
Schlozman filed the civil suit against Carnahan, which was later dismissed by a federal court judge who ruled, "The United States has not shown that any Missouri resident was denied his or her right to vote as a result of deficiencies alleged by the United States. Nor has the United States shown that any voter fraud has occurred."
Schlozman filed federal criminal charges of voter fraud against members of ACORN only days before the November 2006 mid-term elections. The case was later dismissed and Schlozman came under criticism for breaking with longstanding Justice Department policy against bringing voter fraud charges close to an election.
Schlozman testified before a Senate committee last year that he received approval to file the voter fraud charges from a Justice Department official who was instrumental in drafting the guidelines urging that U.S. Attorneys avoid filing charges claiming voter fraud at the height of an election.
John McKay, the former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, was fired in large part, according to the DOJ report, because Republicans were angry that he did not convene a federal grand jury to pursue allegations of voter fraud related to the 2004 governor's election in the state, in which Democrat Christine Gregoire defeated Republican Dino Rossi by a margin of 129 votes.
In an interview, McKay said there were some Republicans in his district with close ties to the White House who demanded he launch an investigation into the election and bring charges against individuals--Democrats--for vote-rigging. He believes his refusal to haul "innocent people before a grand jury" was the reason he was not selected for a federal judgeship by local Republicans in Washington state in 2006.
McKay said that, at the time, he felt he was not being treated fairly, and requested a meeting with then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers to discuss the issue, as well as his application for US district judge in his home state
"I asked for a meeting with Harriet Miers, whom I had known since work I had been involved in with the American Bar Association, and she immediately agreed to see me in August of 2006," McKay said. He added that when he met with Miers and her deputy William Kelley at the White House, the first thing they asked him was, "Why would Republicans in the state of Washington be angry with you?"
That was "a clear reference to the 2004 governor's election," McKay said in characterizing Miers and her deputy's comments. "Some believed I should convene a federal grand jury and bring innocent people before the grand jury."
"All of my actions as United States attorney had been coordinated with the Department of Justice," McKay told me. He said he explained that to Miers and Kelley, and informed them that there was no evidence of voter fraud to support launching a federal inquiry into the election.
McKay said he believes the meeting he had with Miers and Kelley directly led to his name being placed on a list of US attorneys selected for dismissal in December 2006.
ACORN Offices Raided
Bob Walsh, the spokesman for Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller, a Democrat, said ACORN is accused of submitting multiple voter registrations with false and duplicate names, accusations similar to ones leveled in New Mexico that turned out to be baseless.
The raid comes two months after state and federal authorities formed a task force to pursue election-fraud allegations in Nevada, a crucial swing state in November’s presidential election.
Walsh said there have been ongoing complaints that ACORN has submitted voter registration forms rife with erroneous information. But it's unknown how many of bogus forms were submitted.
Friedman, the investigative reporter and an expert on election integrity issues, said Tuesday's raid of ACORN's Nevada offices was orchestrated by the GOP to scare people away from the polls.
"With prospects looking bleak for the Republicans this November, pulling out the old ACORN lie --- in hopes of scaring people away from the polls, causing chaos in November by challenging voters when they show up to vote, and putting in place baseless grounds to contest close results later on (when the GOP become "sore losers") --- is just about all they have left at this point," Friedman wrote on his blog.
"Doubtless you've heard the smears by now: that ACORN is committing "voter fraud", on behalf of Obama, in hotly contested swing states," Friedman wrote. "The media has been all too happy to pass that garbage on, without bothering to note that, in fact, the organization attempts to authenticate every registration form their workers submit and by law they must turn in every form to election officials --- even if they find a registration to be fraudulent when they call the phone number submitted on the form, or if the forms are otherwise suspect or incomplete."
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