|Thursday, Apr 24, 2014, 04:50:02 PM|
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Knappster: Voter registration fraud linked to GOP operation
By George Knapp
President Bush and his alter ego, Karl Rove, were back in Las Vegas this week, firing up the faithful and drumming up support in what everyone agrees is a key battleground state. During their previous visit to our city, Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove dropped a few dark hints that they were deeply concerned about possible voter registration fraud here. What they didn't say was that their own party may be deeply involved in registration skullduggery.
By the time this issue hits the streets, there's a good chance that parts of this sordid tale will have already been made public. For the sake of any visiting Republican honchos who haven't seen the story on television, allow me to elaborate.
A company called Voters Outreach of America has been operating in Nevada for the past several months. The company is largely, if not exclusively, funded by the Republican National Committee. VOA has hired scores, perhaps hundreds, of temporary workers and has been paying them to go out and sign up new voters. But the company doesn't really want just any voters. It only wants Republicans.
Employees of the company say they were given special training in how to identify potential GOP voters, and how to avoid signing up any Democrats. Workers were told that if they signed up as many Democrats as Republicans, they would not be paid for the hours they spent in front of shopping malls, grocery stores or government offices. In a cold, harsh way, this makes sense. Why would the GOP put out a pile of cash to sign up Democrats? But it goes far beyond merely giving Democrats the brush-off.
Two employees of VOA say they personally witnessed the managers of the company removing and destroying the voter registration forms of those who signed up as Democrats. The registration forms of Democrats were ripped into shreds and tossed into the garbage. The employees managed to retrieve some of the shredded papers from the garbage and handed them over to this reporter. The forms were completely filled out and were signed by people who thought their registrations would be filed with the county Election Department. That didn't happen.
County election chief Larry Lomax confirmed that all three of the shredded registration forms I showed to him had never been filed with the county. What's more, the people who filled out and signed the forms were surprised and angry when informed that their registrations had been sent not to the Election Department, but to a wastepaper basket instead. In addition to the ripped forms, the employees showed me a dozen or more registration receipts that had been tossed away, instead of being handed over to the people who signed the forms. Without those receipts, the voters would show up at the polls on Election Day and would have no proof whatsoever that they had ever registered. They would not be allowed to vote, and it would be too late to do anything about it.
This is as low as it gets. We can't say for certain how many Clark County residents are going to be stripped of their most basic American right by this scheme, but it could easily number in the hundreds or thousands. After all, VOA has been up and running for a long time here and has employed an army of temporary registrars. But Clark County may not be alone in this.
The story didn't make much of a ripple in this end of the state, but a few weeks ago Washoe County Voter Registrar Dan Burk, who is a Republican by the way, told the Reno Gazette-Journal that he has asked the FBI to investigate a pattern of voter registration fraud, a pattern that he alleges is centered on private groups funded by the Republican National Committee. Burk took this action after receiving numerous complaints, including one from a potential voter who says a street-corner registrar advised her to leave blank the section that specifies a party preference.
Clark County's Lomax says he has received numerous complaints about VOA over the past few months, and that he contacted local Republican leaders to find out what was going on. Lomax says he was assured the registration drive in question was being directed by the National GOP, not by the locals. A spokesperson for the RNC told the Gazette-Journal that the party is taking all necessary steps to make sure its temporary employees are all following the law. Dan Burk says the Reno operations quickly responded to his concerns by firing some of their temp workers for assorted transgressions.
Maybe that word has yet to dribble down to VOA here in Las Vegas.
The former employees who retrieved the shredded forms say that VOA has a handy file of Democratic registrations that it has duly filed with the registrar. Their suspicion, though, is these forms are mere tokens, duly submitted as proof that the company isn't biased against Democrats. It would be interesting to compare the number of confirmed Democratic registrations against the number of Republican forms the company has submitted. Let's see if they will tell us.
There's a pretty good chance that this matter will be handed over to law enforcement agencies, if it hasn't already. One published report says the Nevada Division of Investigations has already been looking into registration fraud in Clark County. We don't know for sure if the FBI is investigating or not. We do know that all across the country, there are some pretty serious allegations being raised, not only about registration shenanigans, but about widespread intimidation of potential voters, especially black voters. Considering the debacle of the last presidential election, and all of the sneaky crap that was pulled in Florida, it gets downright scary to ponder the possibilities. It is not out of the question to suggest that the 2004 election could be decided here in Nevada, where a few hundred, or a few thousand disenfranchised voters could tip the balance.
It's outrageous, and it simply can't be allowed.
Earlier this week, my colleague Jon Ralston wrote that groups linked to the Democrats could probably use some scrutiny concerning their own registration drives. Ralston thinks that some of the private "527" organizations have been playing games of their own, but, he adds, nothing remotely as egregious as trashing signed registration forms. (If there is proof that Democrats have done this, I would like to see it.)
The larger issue is one that needs to be addressed by our lawmakers. As long as temp workers are paid a fee for each registration, there are going to be abuses. Basically, anyone can become a registrar. Citizens who go to the DMV or the county building to sign up to vote often believe that the folks out front with the clipboards are government employees, instead of otherwise-unemployed out-of-towners looking to make a quick buck for bus fare or a week's rent.
Surely, there has to be a better way. At a minimum, there should be some kind of reasonable and enforceable standards for the people and companies who perform this work. This is our right to vote we're talking about.
Names and faces
Former county commissioner Lance Malone has kept the lowest of profiles in recent months as he prepares for his trial in the G-Sting political corruption case. Knappster ran into Malone the other day in the office of his attorney, Dominic Gentile. He appeared fit and confident while exchanging pleasantries but wanted no part of the TV camera that was being set up in the office. Malone and Gentile hint that they may have a few surprises coming when their case finally gets to court. ... Spotted elsewhere on the same day was defense attorney Michael Amador, best known for his role in the Margaret Rudin murder trial. Amador took a lot of lumps after that trial, and has purposely stayed out of the limelight ever since. Based on appearances, he really seems to have turned his life around and looks like a new man. Good for him. ... If Nevada Treasurer Kathy Augustine really does end up in an impeachment hearing before the Legislature, she will have more than the formidable Dominic Gentile in her corner. I've heard a few other names mentioned as likely members of her defense team, and at least one of them will knock your socks off. ... Famed Canadian pop star Chantal mesmerized a local audience last week, but the performance didn't make any entertainment columns here, for good reason. Chantal was one of the bridesmaids at the Spanish Trail wedding of her cousin, Emily Fouse, the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Mervyn Fouse. Emily tied the knot with talented news photographer Matt Adams, Knappster's I-Team colleague. A white baby grand was wheeled in for Chantal's stirring set, and believe it or not, even yours truly was on his best behavior.