View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Sunday, September 26, 2004

Vote Fraud in Colorado? 

Powerline reports on potential voter fraud in Wisconsin, and blogger Sandi is doing additional investigation. It turns out that one of the organizations involved, the New Voters Project, is active here in Colorado, and much of the same potential for fraud exists here, too.

Colorado, like a number of other battleground states, has seen voter registration drives, some of which have been crooked. Back in August, a large number of voter registration forms had incorrect addresses or names. Initially, some of these discrepancies were attributed to paid signature-collectors, with obvious incentive to pump up their numbers. It turned out that the firm overseeing this drive, as well as petition-gathering drives for some local and state initiatives was under investigation for some shennanigans in other states, as well.

When three local DAs joined the Attorney General's investigation, it was revealed that the local office of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), had hired the firm in question to conduct a voter registraion drive. (That would appear to let Amendment 36 off the hook for that part of the problem.)

ACORN itself is a pretty typical liberal organization, and voter registration drives are part of their work. As is union organizing. When it looked like they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar, they rubbed their toe in the dirt, looked down at their shoes, and said that, yeah, maybe some of these petitions originated with them.

ACORN seems to be on the wrong side of the voter fraud issue nationally. They've filed a lawsuit to extend the voter registration deadline past October 4 in Florida. The "pay-for-play" excuse has, it seems, gotten them into trouble elsewhere. ACORN has also had a worker take the Fifth in an investigation in New Mexico.

Finally, a local man was indicted for forging voter registration signatures. As of yet, there have been no additional indictments. Attorney General Salazar has a reputation for being above-board, but it's unconscionable that the hasn't recused himself from an investigation where he clearly has at least a potential conflict of interest.

Two other organizations that have been pushing voter registration drives in Colorado are the aforementioned New Voters Project (more about them momentarily) and Fair Vote Colorado. Both of these organizations are almost universally described as "non-partisan," and yet both are run by either Democratic or Naderite political operatives.

Fair Vote Colorado lists as its contacts Shawn Rogers and Mark Eddy. Mr. Rogers is a research analyst at the Bighorn Center, and Mr. Eddy was the Deputy Campaign manager/Communications Director for 2002 Democratic Gubernatorial nominee Rollie Heath. Bighorn Center founder, Rutt Bridges, was a candidate for the Democratic Senate nomination who bowed out in favor of Ken Salazar. There's nothing underhanded about this, but it's disingenuous to call FVC "non-partisan."

The New Voters Project is much more problematic. Mr. Belling discusses some of the local Wisconsin problems, but it turns out the organization has cheating etched into its DNA. It's funded by the George Washington University, but it's also funded by the Public Interest Research Groups, founded by Ralph Nader as a means of strong-arming and coercing students into funding his activities.

The New Voters Project is possible with the support of The Pew Charitable Trusts. The George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management and the State PIRGs are organizing the project, with the mission of increasing the turn out of young voters in the 2004 election.

The state coordinator, Ben Prochazka, used to be the Western States Field Organizer for USPIRG. Fox News reported this March on how PIRGs operate, and it's distinctly distasteful:

First, they attempt to institute mandatory, nonrefundable "contributions" from the student body either through a student referendum, a petition drive or by going through school administrators. The University of Wisconsin requires all of its students to donate to the local PIRG chapter, as does the University of Oregon, and about a third of the state colleges in New York's SUNY system.

If that doesn't work, PIRG chapters attempt to institute a "reverse check" system, where each student automatically donates to PIRG each time he registers for classes, unless he specifically knows to look for an already checked box asking for his support -- and "unchecks" it.

If they can't win support there, PIRG groups will attempt a "refundable fee" system, where each student is automatically billed, but can request a refund by taking the bill to the university registrar or bursar's office, filling out some paperwork, then taking the form to the local PIRG's campus office to get the money back.

Such systems rake in millions for PIRGs because they put the burden on college students to educate themselves about each line item on their tuition bill, or to go to great effort for a comparatively small refund, particularly unlikely when mom and dad or Mr. Perkins and Mr. Stafford are paying for college anyway.

So now, local county elections officials are overwhelmed with applications. Worse,

Several clerks say they can't always double-check the entries they make from mostly hand-written, often illegible registration forms.

"We're doing the best we can ... but we're not always going to be right. You can't have 100 percent accuracy," said La Plata County Clerk Linda Daley.

There are no state rules on double-checking new voter information.

"That's not something we get into," said Lisa Doran, spokeswoman for the secretary of state.

Moreover, Common Cause has filed a lawsuit to prevent Secretary of State Donetta Davidson from requiring any form of identification to vote, even electric or phone bills.

Underlying Monday's lawsuit are questions about Davidson's political motivations. She is a Republican, and experts say her election rules could help her party, whose members are thought to be more likely to have IDs such as driver's licenses and less likely to cast provisional ballots than Democrats.

Provisional ballots are given to voters whose names don't appear on registration rolls; they're counted only after being verified after the election.

"There are some marginal voters, less educated or newly immigrated to this country, who may be a little less familiar with procedures and requirements, and they might skew Democratic, but it's not an overwhelming skew," said Denver political consultant Eric Sondermann.

Added Democratic consultant Rick Ridder: "Like any business, if you put barriers up at the point of sale, you should expect to have a reduction in sales."

Davidson spokeswoman Lisa Doran, in response, said the secretary doesn't consider politics in setting election rules. "This is a nonpartisan office," she added.

Monday's lawsuit challenges a state law passed in 2003 requiring a driver's license, utility bill or other form of ID at the polls. Election officials say the rule is needed to prevent people from voting twice, as they say has happened in Colorado.

Plaintiffs argue the rule amounts to a poll tax because most proof of identification costs money.

"In effect, you have to pay for something before you can vote," said attorney Martha Tierney.

The suit also challenges Davidson's recent rule prohibiting voters who request absentee ballots, but lose or don't receive them, from casting provisional ballots on Election Day.

Like the law requiring voter identification, Doran said, the rule is needed to keep people from voting twice.

This is ridiculous on the face of it. The rules in place are perfectly reasonable protections for a system that has far too few of them. The notion that a rent notice or utility bill constitutes a poll tax stretches the concept of "tax" beyond recognition. The fact is the Common Cause is seeking to remove any checks at the polls to make sure that the people voting actually are who they say they are.

Should Common Cause succeed, we will have a system with an admitted inability to validate registrants, disabled from checking them when they try to vote. My advice is to get to the polls early before someone votes in your name.

Three things are lacking in all the reporting I've seen, from Wisconsin to New Mexico to Colorado. First, there's a basic belief that disenfranchisement is tangibly, fundamentally worse than fraud. That's partly because of the country's history with black disenfranchisement. But it's also because the victims prevented from voting can be found, while fraud invisibly victimizes everyone. The fact that it's more likely to victimize Republican candidates may or may not play a role here, as well.

Second, the issues get reported piecemeal. First, there's the question of voter registration. Then, there's the issue of voter identification at the polls. But you can only understand the problem by seeing the joint effects of fraudulent registration and no voter identification. This is almost never pointed out.

Finally, the papers assume that any errors, in addition to only running one way, will also be the result of honest mistakes by a system overwhelmed, and incompetent individuals filling out forms. (The idea that there is a plan to overwhelm the system never comes up.)

The Post editorializes about disenfranchisement, but says not a word about fraud. The Post finds time to question Davidson's motives, but not those of Common Cause. Who, after all, could be in favor of vote fraud?

Who, indeed?

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