More Florida shenanigans

Our view: The party that championed ballot integrity is accused of voter fraud

October 01, 2012

Having made allegations of widespread voter fraud a signature issue for their party in recent years, you'd think Republicans would know better than to tolerate anything that smacked of similar irregularities in their own ranks. So it's ironic that the first major alleged instance of voter fraud this election cycle is being attributed to Republicans rather than Democrats. It must be galling for the party that's sponsored ID laws across the country to prevent voter fraud to now find itself accused of the same shenanigans it accuses Democrats of perpetrating.

In Florida, hundreds of suspicious voter registration forms were submitted to local election boards by workers for a firm called Strategic Allied Consulting, which was hired by the Republican National Committee to sign up potential voters this year. Election officials in Palm Beach, Fla., first became suspicious after noticing dozens of forms that all appeared to have been signed by the same person or that listed addresses belonging to commercial businesses rather than residences.

The company initially claimed all the forms were turned in by a single individual and that the irregularities represented an isolated event. But last week officials discovered a similar pattern of irregularities in nine other Florida counties where Strategic Allied Consulting had been active, including some that listed dead people and others that were either incomplete or illegible. Election officials in those counties reported they had turned hundreds of suspect forms over to local prosecutors.

The RNC has since fired Strategic Allied Consulting, which was also conducting voter registration drives for the party in Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia. But this is a humiliating episode for the party because it has made such a big deal in the past about fighting voter fraud allegedly perpetrated by Democrats. In 2008 it blasted the grass roots organization ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) for hiring 11 workers who submitted hundreds of fraudulent voter registration forms in Florida. Now it's being accused of doing essentially the same thing.

It's not as if the RNC didn't have plenty of warning things could go wrong. Strategic Allied Consulting is headed by an Arizona GOP operative whose workers have previously been accused of turning in fraudulent registration forms. In 2004, the employees of the firm were also accused of discarding voter registration forms the collected from Democrats. Police investigated that case, but no charges were filed, and the company denies that it condones fraud. Nonetheless, now that the GOP is on the defensive, Democrats could well demand that election officials in the other four other states where Strategic Allied Consulted operated examine thousands of forms submitted there for evidence of fraud as well.

It's worth noting that the kind of fraud alleged in Florida is not the type that GOP-sponsored voter ID laws might actually have a chance of preventing. The ostensible purpose of requiring that people show ID before voting is to stop them from deliberately impersonating actual registered voters and casting ballots in their names. Despite a massive federal investigation into the matter during the Bush years, there is still no evidence that kind of fraud occurs on any significant scale, and it's doubtful that it's what the Strategic Allied workers had in mind this time.

Rather, the motivation for submitting false forms is as simple as can be: money. Just as in the case of the ACORN workers four years ago, their pay depended in some measure on their ability to generate new registrations. It should be clear by now to both parties that such a practice is a bad idea. Regardless of the outcome of Florida's investigation, this episode should convince Republicans and Democrats alike not to outsource their voter registration efforts.

What it should not do, however, is add any momentum to the GOP efforts to enact over-zealous voter ID laws, which are far more likely to suppress turnout among the poor, minorities and the elderly — millions of whom lack photo ID — than they are to prevent real voter fraud. Embarrassing as the efforts of Strategic Allied workers are for the GOP, they were never likely to make a difference in the outcome of an election. But voter ID laws could.

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