The GOP voter registration fraud story here in Florida broke on Tuesday with an article in The Palm Beach Post saying that questionable forms had been sent to the state attorney general for review. The same newspaper reported on Saturday that the indications of more fraud had been found in other counties when Okaloosa County Elections Supervisor Paul Lux saw the first story online and sent it all the other elections supervisors in the state.
When the story first broke, the RNC claimed that the questionable voter applications were the work of one worker. That claim fell apart when suspicious forms started being found in more counties around the state of Florida. Now Nathan Sproul, the brains beyond the Strategic Allied Consulting firm behind the scandal, is now claiming it was just a few individuals among the 2,000 workers they had dispatched in Florida.
On Wednesday, The Rachel Maddow Show had a segment about the fact that Florida's ballot this year is huge. The point of the segment was the fact that Florida had long lines in 2008, and yet this year with the even larger ballot Florida has cut early voting days.
You can understand that elections officials have their hands full getting ready for the election. The GOP passed new voter laws recently, and the effect of one of the new rules is that when third parties register voters and turn in those applications to the State they have to be tagged with the identity of the group that turned them in. The Los Angeles Times reported on Friday that 45,917 voter registration forms have been turned into the state by the GOP. This adds more work on election officials as they now have to find and review each of those 45,917 forms.
The Brad Blog has a lengthy recap (H/T AnnetteK for sending me the link) of what has happened so far in the scandal. It's an extremely long article, but well worth the read if you want to catch up on all the pieces that have come out so far.
It took several days for the story to go national, and for the RNC to eventually take action in firing the company that Sproul says he was specifically asked to create for them, but only after the Republican Party of Florida, and then the North Carolina GOP fired the firm first. The state parties say they had hired the company "at the request" of the RNC. They fired Strategic after allegedly fraudulent and purposely changed voter registration forms turned in by the group emerged in other counties beyond Palm Beach County, FL where the Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher initially discovered and then turned in over 100 "questionable" forms to the State Attorney last Monday.Josh Marshall and his team at Talking Points Memo is interested in this story and promises to stay on it. Meanwhile, Marshall wrote a long front-page post explaining the difference between voter fraud and voter registration fraud. He also wrote about what a bad actor Nathan Sproul has been in doing this kind of voter manipulation on behalf of the GOP for years.
The story has been moving quickly over the past 24 to 48 hours, even as the RNC and Strategic have been trying, with the initial uncritical help of the AP and others in the media, to downplay the scandal as the work of just "one individual".
Vote fraud is what most of us think of: voting twice, voting when you’re not eligible to vote, stuffing ballot boxes with phony ballots and so forth. Voter registration fraud is registering people to vote who don’t exist or signing up legitimate voters without their signatures or permission and so forth. Big difference.I especially enjoyed an article from The Miami Herald on Saturday just because the opening made me laugh, and also because it points out that not until several state Republican Party groups fired Strategic Allied Consulting did the national RNC follow suit.
Ironically it’s been Republicans, in their effort to pass vote-suppressing voter ID laws, who’ve intentionally conflated the two (often with the help of ignorant reporters). To be clear, just because you register Mickey Mouse or Mary Poppins to vote doesn’t mean they’re going to show up to vote. Indeed, they’re not going to. Because they don’t exist. And even when it’s John Smith or Party Morgan, conspirators don’t show up to vote in those people’s name either. There’s abundant evidence and simple logic that attests to this. Most of what voter registration fraud does is clog up voting lists with phony names.
All that said, Mr. Sproul isn’t just any bad actor. As longtime TPM Readers know, back in 2004 he was credibly accused of doing something far more nefarious: impersonating Democratic-leaning groups, registering as many Democrats as possible and then destroying those legitimate registrations rather than turning them into local canvassing boards. This wouldn’t create fraudulent ballots but it would convince a lot of legitimate voters that they were registered only to show up at the ballot box and realize they weren’t — thus effectively blocking their Democratic votes.
For the better part of two years now, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Republican Party have been scouring the state like a sheriff and his posse, hot on the trail of election bandits.Page two of the article also has some juicy snark worth reading if you enjoy a good laugh when it is points out that after months of trying to weed out noncitizens from the Florida voter rolls, the state has found "198 suspect voters out of 11,446,540 registered statewide." Actually the total, according to the Florida Division of Elections website is 11,583,367. That number includes 4,173,177 Republicans and 4,627,929 Democrats, which means there are currently 454,752 more Democrats than Republicans registered in Florida. So if Rick Scott's desire to decrease that Democratic advantage, he failed miserably while wasting tax payer dollars on the project. Rick Scott has also made it a priority to increase Republican registrations in the state. Bloomberg Businessweek reports:
Turns out, our Republican gunslingers didn’t have far to look. The wily varmints corrupting Florida’s electoral process have been working right under their noses.
After the story broke last week, roiling through the newspapers, political blogs and cable television, the Florida Republican Party fired the outfit. So did the state Republican Party organizations in North Carolina, Colorado and Virginia. And finally the Republican National Committee, which had paid the firm $2.9 million to work its magic in swing states, announced that it was severing its relationship with Strategic Allied Consulting. The Florida party bosses also filed a formal election fraud complaint against its own vendor.
For more than a year, Scott also has made registering new voters a priority. He recruited top Republican fundraisers to collect money for the effort to help erase party’s deficit with Democrats, who have an edge of about 455,000 voters.Expect this story to be a hot topic of conversation on the 24/7 cable news channels this week as more information comes to light and other swing states where Strategic Allied Consulting had voter registration operations going start to weigh in and be questioned about applications they've received from the group. Of course, don't expect to see anything on Fox News because as Media Matters reports they don't think it's important enough a topic to report about.
That in-house effort from Florida Republicans resulted in about 7,000 applications in the two months before hiring Strategic Allied in July at the suggestion of the Republican National Committee, [Florida Republican Party spokesman Brian] Burgess said. None of the applications collected by the state party have been questioned, Burgess said.
Four years ago Fox News helped turn ACORN into a dirty word among conservatives by leading an often-hysterical right-wing crusade against the community activist group, charging it time and again with "voter fraud" on behalf of candidate Obama. In order to bolster its flimsy "voter fraud" attacks, the network repeatedly harped on reports that ACORN canvassers had submitted questionable voter registration forms.There is a report already in Monday's edition of The Charlotte Observer that election officials in North Carolina are reviewing voter registration forms in light of the revelations about Strategic Allied Consulting.
Yet this week Fox has shown little interest in covering the unfolding story out of Florida, where the state's Republican Party has cut ties with a consulting firm accused of handing in more than 100 dubious voter registration forms.
The North Carolina board of elections is contacting local boards of elections in the state to see if they have found any discrepancies or questionable forms being submitted by Strategic Allied. The board will decide whether to launch an investigation, said board Director Gary Bartlett. “Right now, we’re looking to see if there’s been any impropriety,” he said. “No one yet has brought to my attention that there is something wrong here, but I asked my investigator to see if we have a problem. And if we do, we will deal with it.”North Carolina election officials have already been bogged down with hundreds of hours of extra work this election season when a Tea Party group submitting 30,000 names of dead people they claimed were still on the election rolls. And now they have an extra burden of reviewing all the voter registration applications submitted by Strategic Allied Consulting.
State probe looms for firm registering GOP voters
Questionable registrations in Fla. prompt N.C. leaders to fire firm amid election officials’ review
RNC Cancels All Swing State Voter Registration Drives
Also waiting for Monday morning news readers is a report that the RNC has cancelled all efforts to register voters in five swing states (Florida, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia) that have registration deadlines between October 6 and 15. The pressure was evidently mounting from the growing scandal so they fired Strategic Allied Consulting. Of course, the RNC is trying to put lipstick on the pig by claiming there would be no impact because they were wrapping up registration efforts anyway. Oh, and those pigs with lipstick can fly too. Oh, and of course none of the blame should be placed at the RNC's feet.
The Republican National Committee ended efforts to sign up new voters before the deadline in key states for the presidential race because of questions raised over registration applications tied to the party.If you ready my diary on Saturday, RNC Asked Nathan Sproul to Create Shell Companies to Mask Payments, you know it's very obvious what's going on here. The RNC wanted to use Nathan Sproul's services, but they did not want people to be reminded of his past scandals so they asked him to create the shell company, Strategic Allied Consulting, to run voter registration drives in the swing states. But, as Lee Fang at The Nation uncovered, it is very likely that Nathan Sproul has voter suppression operations going on in other states, specifically “Grassroots Outreach, LLC” in California. Certainly, the RNC will label this a conspiracy theory, but is it that far of a stretch of the imagination?
The company was required to report any instances of applications being questioned by elections officials to the state party, Burgess said.
Nathan Sproul, who owns the company, said that wasn’t true.
“Every morning, a conference call was held to discuss the project using their conference call number,” Sproul said in an e-mail. “It’s impossible for them to claim with credibility that we didn’t communicate clearly.”
Sproul said the company had 2,000 workers in Florida and that the problems were caused by a few individuals.
I dedicated several hours on Saturday trying to see if I could find more companies in other states. First I found out that Strategic Allied Consulting LLC was organized in Virginia and the registered agent was CT Corporation System, which is a company that provides this service for a lot of companies. Remembering that one of the clues in Fang's article was that the wording of the online ad to hire "Voter Outreach Representatives" was almost identical. I tried searching for similar jobs only to discover that when the phone number and/or company name was listed, it turned out to be a temporary staffing agency. Most of these ads advertised a pay rate of $12 per hour. As somebody who's paid temporary agency bills for companies before, I know they the mark-up can be anywhere from 25% to 75%. Think about that. Sproul had 2,000 workers in Florida at $12/hour and paying mark-up on top of that. Many of the articles I've read say that many state Republican organizations were spending as much as half of their budget or more for these services.
Finally, I spent several hours at the Federal Election Commission's website trying to go through the reports state Republican parties have submitted to see if I could discover the names of organizations other than Strategic Allied Consulting that had been paid for voter registration. The reports look like this. The problem is there is not way that I could find to search on the description field for "voter registration" and like services. Nor was a able to find a way to search by vendor name, although I was looking for names other than Strategic Allied anyway. Also, you have to look at each report individually, clicking through several links to get to each report. It's not a very user friendly system.
Hopefully reporters with the skills and tools to root out more information about what the Republican Party has actually been doing around the country will continue to dig into this story. I may be labeled a conspiracy theorist, but I think there is a reason Strategic Allied Consulting was only limited to the swing states and that Nathan Sproul has set up other shell companies in non-swing states. Why would they be interested in pushing these voter suppression efforts in every state in the country? It's not the presidential election that concerns them. It's the down ticket races. It's also state races. Look what the GOP did in 2010 when nobody was paying attention. They took over governorships and state houses around the country. That's where the 2011 spike in their legislation (voter ID laws, abortion) came from. They've figured out that they need to build from the bottom up. And one way to do that is to get in and suppress Democratic votes in every district.
UPDATE: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Launches GOTV for GOP Congressional Candidates
Perhaps this is the reason that the RNC isn't too worried about the impact stopping their registration efforts in the swing states will have on the election.
The pro-business lobbying group unveiled VoteForJobs2012.com, a website designed to educate voters and get them to the polls. The site will include voter registration forms, absentee ballots and polling place locators. It also will include information on House and Senate races and a comparison of the candidates on the issues.
The Chamber has spent more than $19 million on ads this election cycle, much of it targeting Democratic candidates. It is expected to spend millions more in the next five weeks before Election Day. It recently bought $2 million in ads in Florida to challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and $390,000 in North Dakota to air spots against Heidi Heitkamp. The Chamber also invested about $3 million in California for commercials going after eight Democrats in House races.