Monday, October 1, 2012

Investigate the GOP on Voter Registration Fraud

Nathan Sproul

Wikipedia has an entry for Nathan Sproul, who's a longtime Republican operative and who's been in trouble with the law before:
In 2012 Sproul headed up a company called Strategic Allied Consulting which was hired by the Republican National Committee to conduct voter registration drives in preparation for the 2012 election. On September 27 the RNC announced it was cutting all ties with the company when over 100 suspicious Republican voter registrations from the company were submitted by the firm to Palm Beach County, Florida. The RNC had also hired the company for similar work in Nevada, North Carolina, Colorado and Virginia. Authorities in six Florida counties were investigating suspected registration fraud involving the firm.
In 2004, the voter registration firm Sproul & Associates defended itself from accusations that it was discarding the registration forms of Democrats after a past employee provided KLAS-TV with shredded forms and claimed this discarding was done as a matter of routine. Countering the allegation, Sprout & Associates proved that some Democratic voter registrations had been properly submitted.
Talking Points Memo has long been a leader in investigating GOP dirty tricks. Here's TPM's Josh Marshall:
Amidst the tempests of late September, the 2012 campaign this last week was hit by a thunderclap of schadenfreude, as the Republican Party, which has been using baseless claims of voter fraud to disenfranchise voters around the country, was itself embroiled in a scandal involving voter registration fraud. The story centers on a firm called Strategic Allied Consulting employed by the Republican National Committee to do voter registration work in Florida and other states. And the man behind Strategic is someone longtime TPM Readers will definitely remember: Nathan Sproul.
Now, before going any further, let’s clarify one point. Voter registration fraud is not vote fraud. The first is relatively common in the US and the later is extremely rare. And while both are criminal offenses and should be they are apples and oranges when it comes to affecting the outcome of elections.
 Here's further TPM reading on the subject:
The firm, NBC reports, is run by GOP consultant Nathan Sproul, who has not responded to TPM’s requests for comment. Sproul’s other firm, Lincoln Strategy Group, has been paid by Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
The RNC, which did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment, paid the firm to register GOP voters in Nevada. In four other states — Florida, North Carolina, Colorado and Virginia — state parties paid the company and were reimbursed by the RNC.
I was pleased to hear NPR's Morning Edition with Steve Inskeep reporting on this developing story this morning:
INSKEEP: And I guess what's remarkable about this is that Republicans themselves had made voter fraud such a huge signature issue for the party, and now the party itself is caught up in a scandal here.
FESSLER: That's right, Steve. And this is how it first came to light. In Palm Beach County, a worker was processing voter registration forms that had been submitted by this company, Strategic Allied Consulting, which state Republicans had hired to register voters. The worker noticed some fishy things about the forms. There were signatures that looked very similar. There were addresses that were for commercial sites, not residences.
So the county election official contacted the Republican Party, which was identified on the forms as doing the registering. The party then contacted Strategic Allied Consulting, which in fact actually helped officials identify more than a hundred suspicious forms. And the company says those forms were collected all by one individual who was subsequently fired. However, since this all became public, nine other Florida counties have now reported finding suspicious registrations, also from employees of Strategic Allied Consulting. And state authorities are investigating for possible criminal charges.
Go to this page to read the rest of the transcript or listen to the podcast.

We can only hope that this story breaks as big as it should be. Here's the GOP gaming voter registration in a way ACORN -- which turned in suspicious forms by its own volition according to the law, but still came under GOP fire -- never dreamed of doing. And this on top of the GOP efforts to curb an almost non-existent problem of voter fraud with laws enacted in several states, all passed by Republican-controlled legislatures and signed by Republican governors.

Keep in mind that these are very different crimes. One is voter fraud, the act of misrepresenting oneself in order to somehow vote illegally or twice or whatnot (almost never happens) and voter registration fraud, in which someone either turns in registration forms with dubious signatures or, in the apparent case of Nathan Sproul, throws away all the applications of one party while turning in the applications of the other. In this case, Democratic forms were apparently thrown away, possibly disenfranchising a good number of Democratic voters in the process.

One other disturbing aspect of this story is that the RNC, which hired Sproul for this work, more or less directly requested that Sproul set up a dummy company, in this case Strategic Allied Consulting, to hide Sproul's direct involvement. Why would they do that? Here's how that process was described by NPR:
FESSLER: ...And then one other quick thing is that Sproul formed this company just specifically for this effort and says it was the RNC who asked him to form the company in a new name. The RNC will not confirm that.
This is far from kosher and not a small thing, involving voter registration in at least five states, all of them critical swing states. Hopefully, more investigation of these shenanigans will be undertaken.

Update.  TPM reports that Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) is beginning an investigation and has requested a slew of documents from Nathan Sproul. Stay tuned.

Update 2. The Washington Post's Rachel Weiner has a short piece on this scandal. It's nice to see a mention in WaPo, but she mischaracterizes it as voter fraud rather than voter registration fraud. This conflation is harmful to understanding the story, as noted above by Josh Marshall. Still, it's progress.

Update 3. The Washington Post reports that the Pennsylvania voter ID law has been delayed in its implementation until next year:
A judge postponed Pennsylvania’s controversial voter identification requirement on Tuesday, ordering the state not to enforce it in this year’s presidential election but allowing it to go into full effect next year.
However, TPM reports it a bit differently:
A Pennsylvania judge partially blocked the state's voter ID law on Tuesday in a ruling that will still allow poll workers to ask for identification at the polling place. Under the judge's ruling, the state will be forced to accept provisional ballots from individuals who lack identification without that individual having to show photo identity within six days of the election.
TPM has since updated its story to reflect that ballots will be regular, not provisional in this case.

Remember, this is different from the voter registration fraud but is connected. Stay tuned.

Update 4. From other reports it becomes clear that the judge's injunction has the effect of creating a "soft rollout" of the Pennsylvania law. Poll workers can ask for a photo ID but can't refuse the right to vote to anyone who can't provide one, and the voter can vote immediately and not by provisional ballot that would suffer a delay in being counted.

Here's a blast from the past showing the true intent of the Republican majority in the PA legislature, by one Michael Turzai, Republican PA House member (the usual leaked behind-closed-doors what-was-he-thinking-in-the-Internet-age video):

Whoa, that's cold.

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