When I was with the College Republicans at the University of Virginia, I learned a very important lesson about the magic of federalism. The election of 2004 waged all around my freshman year, and the College Republicans were charged with ensuring that Republican leaning students got their absentee ballot applications and registering those who were not registered. Sounded simple enough. However, the trick was that with students from all fifty states, that meant that I had fifty different deadlines to contend with. Talk about headaches.
Well, field organizers on both sides are facing those headaches right now (although the majority only have to deal with one state’s rules and regulations). In the rush to get as many voters registered as possible, we’re beginning to see some suspicious activity.
Yesterday the Secretary of State in Nevada launched an investigation into the voter registration activities of the group ACORN in Las Vegas, going so far as to raid one of the group’s offices.
Nevada authorities seized records Tuesday from a group they accused of submitting fraudulent voter-registration forms — including for the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys.”Tony Romo is not registered to vote in the state of Nevada, and anybody trying to pose as Terrell Owens won’t be able to cast a ballot on Nov. 4,” said Secretary of State Ross Miller, referring to star players on the pro football team.
State authorities raided the headquarters of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, a group that works to register low-income people.
Miller said the raid was part of a monthslong investigation, and he contended the group had submitted registration forms that used false information or duplicated information on multiple forms. He did not estimate how many.
Miller said no one had been charged or arrested in Nevada.
His spokesman, Bob Walsh, said investigators were using information from various sources, including the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Nevada.
“You don’t have to read too many cop novels to know that sometimes people will tell you a grain of truth to try to hide the rest of the truth,” Walsh said. “I’m certainly not suggesting that ACORN is that nefarious, but at the same time just because they handed over 50 to you doesn’t mean there aren’t 150 others out there.”
ACORN has stated that they believe that many of the fradulent applications are likely the result of lazy employees who are filling out the applications simply to fill quotas. That may be the case, but what happens when these false names make it onto the books? How are we to ensure the integrity of the vote when their may be hundreds, even thousands of names that a single person could present themselves as, particularly in states that have less lenient rules regarding voter identification. Clearly, this creates issues, and if ACORNS attitude is that that’s the Voter Registrar’s problem to clean up, then there may be some questions as to how much the value fair and open elections.
In our own backyard of Virginia, we have another troubling story of a Young Democrat turned election official who visited the Fairfax County Jail to register inmates to vote:
Inmates at the Fairfax County jail were encouraged to register and vote last week by elections officials making what the county’s sheriff called the first visit of its kind in his 30 years with the county. That voter turnout effort is now being defended by county officials, but blasted by Republicans who called it an attempt to influence what could be a close presidential election in the commonwealth.
Both Fairfax County General Registrar Rokey Suleman and Sheriff Stan Barry deny any wrongdoing in the decision that granted Office of Elections on-site access to the Adult Detention Center in downtown Fairfax. Barry did, however, say it was unprecedented in his 30-year career with the county.
“We’d never run into it before, honestly,” Barry said. “They contacted us last week and we were not willing to take any role in it, but basically they were just asking for access to the prisoners who were eligible to vote, and we gave them that.”
The visit came as presidential campaigns were making feverish attempts to sign up voters ahead of the Oct. 6 deadline. The state is considered critical to the White House aspirations of Barack Obama and John McCain.
Felons are not eligible to vote in Virginia without having their rights restored by the governor. Suleman said his office, at the request of criminal defense attorneys who approached his staff, delivered registration forms and absentee ballots to inmates with misdemeanor convictions and those awaiting felony trials.
Suleman, who is listed as a founder of the Trumbull County (Ohio) Young Democrats, ran for office in the Buckeye State as a Democrat earlier this year. He said the office he holds in Virginia is nonpartisan.
Clearly, these individuals have a right to vote. However, the fact that Suleman made the decision to conduct an on-site visit (rather than leaving it up to the prisoners, as with everyone else) is certainly cause for concern. The big question is where else did Suleman conduct on-site visits? Were high schools, nursing facilities, and hospitals given the same treatment? Certainly these are all places were individuals might be who might have trouble getting access to voter registration applications. Hopefully Fairfax will follow-up on this issue.
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