OTHER VOICES

Registration scandals taint election process

Posted Oct. 02, 2012, at 12:51 p.m.

Try as they might, election officials have been unable to identify vote-casting fraud anywhere in the United States.

But petition signature and voter registration fraud are alive and well, the latter cropping up most recently in Florida.

Election officials in 10 counties there have found either suspicious or fraudulent voter registration forms collected by a firm working for the Florida Republican Party.

The firm, Strategic Allied Consulting, was hired by Republicans in seven swing states to bolster GOP registration and turnout. The Republican National Committee paid the company about $3 million for get-out-the-vote operations.

In one Florida county, election officials said about 25 percent of the new registrations filed were obviously suspicious and missing required information.

The unfolding scandal is reminiscent of the voter registration fraud that once dogged ACORN, an association of liberal community action organizations.

In any discussion of the subject, it is necessary to understand that voter fraud and registration fraud are not the same.

Voter fraud requires an ineligible voter voting, or an eligible voter voting more than once. This is so rare that the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office searched the commonwealth for it and was unable to find a single case.

Voter registration fraud is very different, and always has more to do with money than politics.

People looking for temporary work are hired by firms like Strategic Allied Consulting to collect signatures or obtain voter registrations.

The people doing the collecting are hired on a per-signature or per-registration basis, or must meet quotas to earn their pay.

The system invites fraud as low-paid workers try to collect as much money as possible before moving on to something else.

Maine has not been immune from the same sort of fraud.

In 2009, Sally Hebert, town clerk in Greene, was reviewing a list of signatures when she spotted the signature of a woman she knew, and recognized it wasn’t her handwriting.

She called the woman who had supposedly signed the petition, and she denied doing so. Hebert began checking other signatures and found they were all phony.

The woman who had collected the signatures had been paid $1 per signature by a company operated by a local Republican, Stavros Mendros.

Another woman and another firm were convicted of conducting the same sort of petition-signature fraud in Maine in 2005.

While falsely registered people rarely (if ever) show up at the polls, they do cause extra work for election officials and can cause delays for legitimate voters on Election Day.

The solution to this very real problem is simple: remove the profit motive from the signature- and registration-gathering process.

This work used to be the domain of local political parties and of volunteer organizations such as the League of Women Voters, and it should be again.

Since Republican-led legislatures have been in search of ways to purify the democratic process, the best place to start would be banning the exchange of money for signatures or completed registrations.

The regular allegations that result from these campaigns lead people to think our election system is corrupt, even when it is not.

Sun Journal, Lewiston (Oct.2)

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