- The Washington Times - Friday, October 15, 2004

A coalition of liberal groups committed to defeating President Bush has spent more than $100 million orchestrating the largest voter-registration drive in U.S. history, raising concerns of widespread voter fraud in 14 battleground states.

At the same time, Democratic Party officials are gearing up to challenge unfavorable Election Day results in a number of states through “pre-emptive strikes,” charging that Republicans prevented minorities from voting even before any such incidents are confirmed.

Working under the banner “America Votes,” the 32-member coalition — led by the anti-Bush America Coming Together (ACT), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and MoveOn.org — has played a key role in what election officials have called a massive increase in registered voters nationwide.

In the past several months, coalition members have flooded minority neighborhoods in an extensive door-to-door voter-registration drive, using bar-coded sheets to identify undecided and potential Democratic voters in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens this week accused the groups of trying to undermine the election process and demanded an investigation by his state attorney of hundreds of questionable voter-registration applications.

“I am very concerned that such groups have registered people who are not qualified to vote,” said Mr. Owens, a Republican.

Democrats quickly blasted Mr. Owens, insisting that he was trying to scare people away from the polls.

“This is the classic move by Republican tacticians: create an environment of fear that discourages voters from showing up on Election Day, for this is the only way they know how to win,” said Susan Casey, state director of Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign.

She said Republicans were panicked over polls showing Mr. Kerry in a virtual tie with President Bush. Studies have shown that high voter turnout tends to favor Democrats.

According to a 66-page Democratic National Committee (DNC) manual, first disclosed yesterday on the Drudge Report, Democrats already are planning to challenge election results.

“If no signs of intimidation have emerged yet, launch a pre-emptive strike,” the manual said.

The manual, dated November 2004, also said Democrats should rely on party officials, minority organizations and civil rights leaders to denounce Republican tactics to discourage people from voting. It also said Democratic Party officials should assist in placing stories in the press by providing “talking points.”

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Ed Gillespie said the manual “proves the Kerry campaign and the DNC are more interested in scaring minority voters than in working to reach out to them on Election Day, even if it means completely making things up.

“Republicans have worked hard to reach out and bring the president’s message of hope and optimism to all Americans, including minority voters around the country,” Mr. Gillespie said. “John Kerry sees these efforts, is concerned by them and is now working to scare those voters with lies and wholesale fabrications.”

Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, a black Republican and prominent speaker during the Republican National Convention in New York, denounced the manual as “truly outrageous, careless and shameful.”

“For some time now, Democratic operatives have been suggesting that Republicans would engage in voter intimidation. The allegation is not new, but very untrue,” Mr. Williams said. “As I look at this 66-page guide, it says, ‘If no signs of intimidation occur, launch a pre-emptive strike.’

“What that means is if there is no evidence, and I don’t expect there will be, just make it up and talk about it anyway,” he said. “The problem is John Kerry hasn’t connected with African-American voters, and he’s trying to gin up his base. He should talk about what’s important instead of scaring the voters.”

Democratic spokesman Jano Cabrera, responding to reports of the DNC’s aggressive Election Day battle plan, said, “We make no apologies for fighting these tactics by exposing the dirty tricks when they happen and helping educate local officials and activists about past Republican tactics so they can prevent them from occurring this year.”

A Democratic Party official, who also confirmed the manual’s existence, denied that it suggests Democrats make up stories about Republican intimidation of would-be voters. The official, who asked not to be named, said it explains how to spot voter intimidation before and on Election Day, how to combat it if it is occurring and what to do if it is not, “but you suspect it will.”

The official also acknowledged that the manual suggests a pre-emptive strike if no signs of intimidation can be shown, but said that section related to states in which intimidation tactics had been a problem in the past.

Several Democratic activist organizations were sending out statements yesterday that detailed instances of what they said were attempts to prevent minorities from voting, but officials of these groups said they were not doing so as a result of the DNC’s initiative.

In Arizona, for example, Debbie Lopez, state director of the Arizona Project Vote, sent out a three-page release warning of what she described as potentially intimidating practices at polling places.

“We have heard that there may be an organized effort of individuals that are encouraged to work polls wearing their sidearms asking all brown voters in the southern border counties for identification as they are waiting to vote,” Ms. Lopez said, adding that she expects to have 700 volunteers across the state on Election Day passing out information to minority voters to apprise them of their rights.

In Pennsylvania, the administration of Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat, plans to put state workers at county election offices on Nov. 2, including one lawyer per office, to watch for any problems, raising suspicions among Republican leaders.

The 14 battleground states can deliver 145 Electoral College votes, with 270 needed to win. Voter registration totals in all 14 states are up significantly, according to election officials, who said more than twice as many new voters have been registered in some states compared with 2000 totals.

But the rush to register has not been without problems or challenges.

Many think that voter-registration fraud, particularly in the battleground states, has been rampant, with those looking to sign up huge numbers of new voters neglecting to obtain correct information or falsifying documents with bogus names, addresses and Social Security numbers.

Authorities in several states are investigating whether thousands of voter registrations have been fraudulently submitted, many by members of the America Votes coalition.

In Florida, for example, the Justice Department is working with state authorities to determine whether voter-registration applications filled out by Republicans and taken by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a coalition member, purposely were not submitted to state election officials as part of a Democrats-only voter-registration drive.

Mac Stuart, a former ACORN field director, told investigators that workers for the organization routinely withheld Republican voter registrations, while “thousands of invalid voter-registration cards” were submitted in their place. He said he was ordered by ACORN officials to generate 103,000 voter registrations from Dade County.

ACORN has said it has registered 1 million new voters since July 2003, adding that its members and staff knocked on the doors of hundreds of thousands of low-income and working families and contacted potential voters at shopping centers, grocery stores, street festivals, sporting events, naturalization ceremonies and hip-hop concerts.

It said it registered 187,510 voters in Florida, 158,036 in Ohio and 120,862 in Pennsylvania.

In Colorado, Mr. Owens demanded an investigation this week into accusations of widespread fraud after his secretary of state, Donetta Davidson, complained that state officials had not done enough to pursue suspected offenders.

Mrs. Davidson said her office had questionable registration applications from county clerks since April, including forms with suspected forged signatures and others with similar signatures, but only one person had been charged and no other investigations were under way.

Jim Fleischmann, ACORN’s western regional director, said the group was cooperating with Colorado authorities to track down several hundred fraudulent applications collected by his organization, but he downplayed the severity of the problem. He described registration fraud as different than voter fraud, adding, “Just because you register someone 35 times doesn’t mean they get to vote 35 times.”

In Ohio yesterday, U.S. District Judge James Carr overruled Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell and ordered that voters who show up at the wrong polling place on Election Day still can cast ballots as long as they are in the county where they are registered.

Meanwhile, two senior Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday asked for a Justice Department investigation into accusations that “hundreds or even thousands” of voter-registration forms submitted by Democrats in Nevada and Oregon were destroyed by a company under contract to the RNC.

Sens. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts charged in a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft that the forms were destroyed by Voters Outreach of America, a private company owned by Nathan Sproul, former head of the Arizona Republican Party.

They said the company also has run registration drives in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, West Virginia and Florida, “leading to fears that similar illegal activity may be occurring or may already have occurred in those states.”

Justice Department officials said they would look into the matter.

The Government Accountability Office, Congress’ independent investigative arm, yesterday released a 106-page report that said the Justice Department has not established procedures for documenting voting irregularities or voter intimidation and has no clear-cut policy for responding to such accusations.

Other members of the America Votes coalition include the American Federation of Teachers, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Democracy for America, Emily’s List, Moving America Forward, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People National Voter Fund, NARAL/Pro-Choice America, National Education Association, Partnership for America’s Families, People for the American Way, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the Sierra Club.

Media Fund and ACT have raised $60 million in anti-Bush dollars. SEIU and AFSCME put up $30 million to defeat Mr. Bush. Moveon.org used a $10 million donation from billionaire financier George Soros to attack the president.

Valerie Richardson contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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