Tuesday, October 26, 2004

And then there's this...absolutely disgusting.

Voter fraud alleged
Group accused of trashing Democrats' registration forms
By Adrienne Packer

Federal and state authorities are looking into Democratic Party allegations that a voter registration group hired by the Republican Party tossed out registration forms signed by Democrats.

The FBI and state officials are reviewing comments by Eric Russell, a former employee of Voter Outreach of America, who claims to have witnessed supervisors throwing away Democrats' voter registration forms.

Destruction of the forms is a federal crime, according to Clark County attorneys.
"We are gathering preliminary information and we'll discuss that information with the U.S. Attorney," said FBI Special Agent David Schrom. "Based on what his guidance is, we'll see whether there is a potential federal violation and whether we can initiate an investigation."
Secretary of State Dean Heller also said Wednesday he is reviewing state and federal laws to determine which might have been violated.

Russell, who was paid $8.50 an hour to register voters, said he was fired last month after protesting his supervisors' destruction of Democratic forms.

"I didn't think it was right to register Republicans when there are others out there that should also be allowed the opportunity to register," Russell said Wednesday. A supervisor "right in front of me was tearing up the Democratic registration forms."

A Chandler, Ariz., political consulting firm, Sproul & Associates, was hired by the Republican National Committee to register Republicans in Nevada, according to the Associated Press. In Nevada, a hotly contested swing state in the presidential election, Voter Outreach carried out the registration effort.

Nathan Sproul, head of Sproul & Associates and a former director of the Arizona Republican Party, denied Voter Outreach workers tore up forms, the Associated Press reported. He called Russell a disgruntled employee.

But Russell isn't the only former Voter Outreach employee to express concerns about the method used to collect Republican voter registration forms. And Sproul's tactics have also been called into question in Oregon, where officials are investigating his group's voter registration efforts.

Tyrone Mrasak said when he worked for the organization the daily goal was to register 18 Republican voters. If they reached their goal in two hours, for example, they could leave and still be paid for eight hours of work, Mrasak said.

"We didn't get credit for forms we brought back marked Democrat," he said.

Mrasak said he often loitered in front of homeless shelters and rewarded homeless people with cigarettes for registering Republican.

"As long as they have an address, they can register," Mrasak said. "If they were looking to bum a cigarette I'd say, `I'll trade you a cigarette if you sign this.' "

Democrats said they have done no investigation of the allegations themselves and have based their claims on a local television news report that aired Tuesday.

Their claims are the latest in a series of allegations from both parties that either Democrats or Republicans are trying to taint November's already contentious general election.

"Republicans are trying to steal this election," Democrat Steven Horsford said during a Wednesday press conference held to respond to Russell's comments.

"This is a horrible thing that has happened in this state," said Clark County Commissioner Yvonne Atkinson Gates, who also serves as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee's Black Caucus. "It's something we will not tolerate."

Brian Scroggins, chairman of the Clark County Republican Party, said the Republicans have "zero tolerance" for voter registration fraud. He added that Democrats have "selective outrage" over such matters.

"Some groups they've been involved with in the past have had allegations of voter fraud and they weren't outraged at that time," Scroggins said. "We are not out there trying to disenfranchise anybody or keep people from going to the polls."

In Oregon, officials opened their investigation on the heels of a local television report in which a paid-per-registration canvasser for Sproul & Associates said he had been instructed only to accept registrations from Republicans, and that he "might" destroy those from Democrats, the Associated Press reported.

News of the alleged destruction of Democratic registration forms reached Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, prompting Democratic National Committee chairman Terence McAuliffe to fire off a letter to his Republican counterpart. In it, he demanded to know why Republicans are funding "an organization that is ripping up voter registration forms of Democrats."

"We are deeply concerned these reports of Republican National Committee funded felonious activities ... could serve to discourage all voters from voting because of concerns of problems with their ballot," McAuliffe wrote in a letter to Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

McAuliffe urged Gillespie to refrain from paying voter registration organizations such as Voter Outreach until investigations are completed.

Voters who show up at the polls, but do not appear on registration rolls, may request to vote provisionally. Provisional votes are counted in federal races and only in case of a close election.
If provisional voters bring voter registration receipts with them to the polls it increases the likelihood their votes will be counted, according to county election officials.
County officials said if provisional votes come into play, the battle over which provisional votes count will likely end up in court.

Wednesday's denouncement of what Democrats labeled political "trickery" came one day after they decried Republican Dan Burdish's challenge to 17,000 Democratic voters.
Burdish, a Republican businessman and former state party executive director, challenged the voters in the 3rd Congressional District, arguing that as "inactive voters" they do not live at the address associated with their voter registration.

The accusations from both parties could lead to lawsuits should either John Kerry or President Bush win the state by a small margin.

The parties might be casting doubt on the registration process to lay the groundwork for lawsuits, said David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
"It doesn't surprise me they're trying to get this out there, put the doubt out there so they have some basis for a legal challenge," Damore said. "American political history is rife with these types of activities. It's unfortunate, but it goes to the issue of how intense this campaign is being fought in the sense people care about the outcome and that might lead them to bend the rules."

The Democrats have set up a phone line to answer questions about infringements on voters' rights. Voters can call 877-WE-VOTE-2 if they have questions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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