Thursday, October 21, 2004

Election officials in Atlanta are questioning the validity of 3,000 voter registration applications collected as part of an effort by a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights organization, working with the Joseph E. Lowery Institute for Justice & Human Rights, to register black voters.

John Sullivan, chief of voter registration for Fulton County, yesterday said volunteers working for the Unity ‘04 Voter Empowerment Campaign might have improperly been paid to get the applications, which is a misdemeanor in Georgia. In a memo, Mr. Sullivan said the “fraudulent applications, I believe, were a product of greed, not an effort to affect the outcome of the election.”

Some of the applications, according to election officials, also appeared to have been filled out in the same handwriting and contained numerous errors, including incorrect Social Security numbers and addresses.

“I don’t think the organization had the intent for fraud, but the net effect was that we got in thousands of them that were bogus,” Mr. Sullivan told reporters. “There are teams of lawyers out there watching us. … Here I am wanting a perfect election. I don’t need this.”

The Rev. Joseph Lowery told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he had fired seven persons who had been hired to collect the voter registration applications, and was disappointed that “a few bad apples would seek to contaminate the work of a lot of diligent, hard-working, honest people who did marvelous work in registering people.

“There’s no benefit to us to have fraudulent voter registration forms,” he said. “That person ain’t ever going to vote.”

Similar concerns have surfaced across the country, with Republicans and Democrats hiring thousands of lawyers to challenge voter registration forms, suspected voter irregularities and intimidation, electronic voting and provisional ballots, and accusations that minority voters were kept from the polls.

Bush-Cheney campaign Chairman Marc Racicot this week called on Sen. John Kerry and the Democratic National Committee to demand that groups that support the Democratic presidential candidate be told to stop voter-registration fraud, efforts to intimidate and confuse voters, and the filing of frivolous lawsuits.

DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe has accused Republicans of engaging in “systematic efforts” to disenfranchise voters, imposing unlawful identification requirements on voters, throwing eligible voters off the rolls, and depriving voters of their right to vote a provisional ballot.

Meanwhile, authorities in Oregon and Nevada are trying to determine whether a Republican-affiliated group destroyed voter registration forms filed by Democratic voters in both states. A Phoenix political-consulting firm, Sproul & Associates, headed by Nathan Sproul, former head of the Arizona Republican Party, is the focus of the inquiry.

The firm received nearly $500,000 from the Republican National Committee for a voter registration drive known as Voters Outreach of America. The company has denied any wrongdoing.

Two senior Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have asked for a Justice Department investigation into the accusations against Sproul & Associates, saying “hundreds or even thousands” of voter-registration forms submitted by Democrats in Nevada and Oregon may have been destroyed.

In Florida, a former worker for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) accused the organization in a lawsuit of illegally copying voter registration applications and selling them to labor union groups, allowing people who were not registered voters to sign petitions and suppressing Republican voter registration applications.

Mac Stuart, an assistant director of voter registration, was fired in August after being accused of trying to cash a paycheck that did not belong to him. In the lawsuit, which seeks $15,000 in damages, he said he was fired only days after voicing his concerns about ACORN practices at a group meeting in late July.

Faith Guy, an ACORN attorney, denied that workers had engaged in registration fraud, calling the accusation “absolutely outrageous.”

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