Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Bush Orders DOJ to Probe Ohio Voter Registrations

Posted in Barack Obama, politics by allisonkilkenny on October 25, 2008

 

By Jason Leopold
The Public Record
Friday, October 24, 2008
President George W. Bush late Friday asked Attorney General Michael Mukasey to investigate whether 200,000 newly registered voters in the battleground state of Ohio would have to reconfirm their voter registration information, an issue the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on last week.
The unprecedented intervention by the White House less than two weeks before the presidential election may result in at least 200,000 newly registered voters in Ohio not being able to vote on Election Day if they are forced to provide additional identification when they head to the polls.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, sent a letter to Bush Friday asking that he order the Department of Justice to probe the matter.

“I strongly urge you to direct Attorney General Mukasey and the Department of Justice to act.” Boehner said in his letter “Unless action is taken by the Department immediately, thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands of names whose information has not been verified through the [Help America Vote Act] procedures mandated by Congress will remain on the voter rolls during the November 4 election; and there is a significant risk if not a certainty, that unlawful votes will be cast and counted. Given the Election Day is less than two weeks away, immediate action by the Department is not only warranted, but also crucial.”
Independent studies also have shown that phony registrations rarely result in illegally cast ballots because there are so many other safeguards built into the system.

For instance, from October 2002 to September 2005, a total of 70 people were convicted for federal election related crimes, according to figures compiled by the New York Times last year. Only 18 of those were for ineligible voting.

In recent years, federal prosecutors reached similar conclusions despite pressure from the Bush administration to lodge “election fraud” charges against ACORN and other groups seen as bringing more Democratic voters into the democratic process.

Some of the Bush administration prosecutors who refused to seek these indictments were then fired in 2006 as part of a purge of nine U.S. Attorneys deemed not “loyal Bushies.”

This “prosecutor-gate” scandal led to the resignations of several senior White House and Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Alberto GonzalesPresident Bush then asserted broad executive privilege to block testimony by Karl Rove and other top White House officials.

In a statement on his website, Boehner said starting today, “Ohio elections officials will begin removing ballots cast during the state’s early voting period from their identifying envelopes, eliminating any possibility of catching fraudulently cast ballots.”

“Franklin County officials yesterday tossed out a dozen fraudulently cast absentee ballots, and the Hamilton County prosecutor has appointed an independent counsel to investigate more than 200 ballots on which the name or address does not match to state records,” Boehner said. “Prosecutor Joe Deters has asked that at least the questionable ballots remain in their identifying envelopes until voter registration information can be confirmed.”

President Bush contacted Mukasey late Friday, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, and requested he investigate. A report released earlier this month by the Justice Department’s inspector general said Bush “spoke with Attorney General Gonzales in October 2006 about their concerns over voter fraud.”

Federal investigative guidelines strongly discourage election-related probes before ballots are cast because of the likelihood that the inquiries will become politicized and might influence the election outcomes.

“In most cases, voters should not be interviewed, or other voter-related investigation done, until after the election is over,” according to the Justice Department’s guidelines for election offenses as revised in May 2007 during Gonzales’s tenure as Attorney General.

Even though those May 2007 guidelines watered down even stricter language in previous editions, the Gonzales-era rules still cautioned:

“Overt investigative steps may chill legitimate voting activities. They are also likely to be perceived by voters and candidates as an intrusion into the election. Indeed, the fact of a federal criminal investigation may itself become an issue in the election.”

In 2004, Ohio was the state where tens of thousands of votes cast on electronic voting machines intended for Sen. John Kerry, the 2004Democratic presidential candidate, were handed to Bush. Additionally, tens of thousands of voters were purged from voter registration rolls. Exit polls on election night 2004 showed Kerry leading Bush in many Ohio counties. Bush carried Ohio by 119,000 votes.

The Nov. 4 presidential election may very well boil down to Ohio if Mukasey’s DOJ gets involved.

At issue is a federal law that requires states to verify the eligibility of voters.

federal appeals court recently upheld a lower court ruling and ordered Ohio election officials to help counties set up a computer system to ensure the veracity of voter registrations.  

That would have required a total overhaul of the computer system just weeks before election and would have jeopardized as many as 200,000 voters, forcing them to cast provisional ballots that may go uncounted, Brunner said.

She said it was impossible to set up a new system or reprogram the existing one before the Nov. 4 election.

The appeals court ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed last month against Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Bruner, a Democrat, by the Ohio Republican Party. The lawsuit claimed voter registration information for hundreds of thousands of new voters did not match up with official government data, such as social security records and driver’s licenses, and was evidence of voter registration fraud. More than 600,000 people registered to vote in the state in this election cycle.

But in court filings, GOP officials did not provide documentary evidence to back up their claims.

The Ohio Republican Party argued that the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), a law that grew out of the disastrous 2000 election between Bush and Al Gore, required Brunner to share any voter registration discrepancies with county election boards so they can identify voter fraud prior to vote counts.

Republicans faulted Brunner for her “steadfast refusal to provide the HAVA “mismatch” data to the county boards of elections in a meaningful way.”

The Ohio GOP wanted Brunner to provide the lists of the newly registered voters whose voter registration information on did not match government records with 88 Ohio counties in an attempt to weed out voter registration fraud.

Republicans accused Brunner of violating federal election laws and that she was “actively working to conceal fraudulent activity.”

Brunner said the lawsuit was “politically motivated.” She said “misstated technical information or glitches in databases” was the explanation for some mismatched information on voter registration forms.

“Many of those discrepancies bear no relationship whatsoever to a voter’s eligibility to vote a regular, as opposed to a provisional, ballot,” Brunner said last week in a court filing. The mismatches “may well be used at the county level unnecessarily to challenge fully qualified voters and severely disrupt the voting process.”

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court took up the case and, in a two-page unanimous opinion, dismissed the lower court’s ruling on a technicality. The justices said lawsuits “brought by a private litigant” could not be used to enforce states to abide by federal laws.
“We express no opinion on the question whether HAVA is being properly implemented,” the unsigned opinion said.  

In a statement, Boehner said he wants Mukasey to intervene and enforce Brunner to comply with HAVA and verify votes.  

The Court ruled that the a private entity did not have the legal standing to enforce federal laws, leading Boehner to ask Attorney General Mukasey to compel Brunner to comply, which would mean providing access to a computerized statewide database, as required under HAVA,” Boehner’s statement says.   

Rick DavisSen. John McCain‘s campaign manager, said Brunner is seeking to “minimize the level of fairness and transparency in this election.”

Various polling data show McCain’s opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, leading in Ohio by five to seven percentage points.

But Republicans, perhaps fearing a Democratic victory, have called into question the integrity of hundreds of thousands new voter registrations.

One of the most notable targets is the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a grassroots group that has registered hundreds of thousands of new voters this year. ACORN is reportedly under federal investigation for engaging in what Republicans believe is a nationwide voter registration fraud scheme.

Trying to salvage his campaign, John McCain has jumped into the ACORN case, too, citing it at the third presidential debate. He declared ACORN “is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.”

However, the investigations launched against ACORN – now including the reported involvement of the FBI – have raised other concerns, especially that Republicans are flogging this issue in an effort to stir up anger, to revive McCain’s campaign, and to intimidate new voters.

For its part, ACORN has insisted that its own quality control flagged many of the suspicious registration forms before they were submitted to state officials and that state laws often require outside registration groups to submit all forms regardless of obvious problems.

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