Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Democrats, Republicans Charge Vote Improprieties

COMMENT: Vote problems are cropping up in virtually every state. This could make for a very messy election.

Wed Oct 13, 9:24 PM ET

By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Democrats on Wednesday charged that the national Republican party was linked to a group accused of trying to stop Democrats from registering to vote in at least two Western battleground states, Nevada and Oregon.

The accusations come as voters rush to meet registration deadlines and election officials around the country report surging registrations, with just three weeks to go in the cliffhanger U.S. presidential campaign.

"We have learned from news reports that a Republican organization, Voters Outreach for America, has been registering voters and then ripping up the forms when registers identify themselves as Democrats," Democratic National Committee (news - web sites) chairman Terry McAuliffe said in a telephone briefing.

"According to the news reports, the groups have been largely, if not entirely, funded by the Republican National Committee (news - web sites)," McAuliffe said.

The Republican National Committee said in a statement it had a "zero tolerance policy for anything that smacks of impropriety in registering voters."

It accused the Democrats of applying "selective outrage" and said Democrat-aligned groups had also faced allegations of "systemic voter registration fraud." The Republican statement cited the progressive group ACORN, which says on its Web site it has registered 200,000 new voters this election cycle and made "non-partisan" get-out-the vote appeals.

ACORN officials have said they have tightened procedures to reduce errors.

The reports from Nevada and Oregon, and similar concerns expressed in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Maine and Missouri, were the latest in a series of alleged campaign dirty tricks involving groups aligned to both major parties.

Election officials in several states have turned over thousands of suspicious voter registration forms for investigation, many of them with bogus addresses, fictitious names or forged signatures.

In Oregon, authorities said they planned to investigate allegations made to a Portland television station by a canvasser hired by Arizona-based Sproul & Associates. The man said he had been instructed to accept only Republican voter registration forms.

The canvasser said he might throw out Democratic registrations since he was not going to get paid for them.

Sproul & Associates, headed by Nathan Sproul, a former executive director of the Arizona state Republican Party, has been linked to Voters Outreach.

In Las Vegas, a former employee of Voters Outreach told a local television station he witnessed a company supervisor taking registration forms signed by Democrats out of a pile and ripping them up.

But in a statement, Sproul said that employee had been fired. Other staff had said no voter registration forms were destroyed and that all had been turned over to state officials in Nevada, including over 500 for Democrats and Independents in the past month, the consulting firm said.

A Republican party spokeswoman confirmed that it had hired Sproul and had paid him for work in registering voters. The party said it had spoken to Sproul since the allegations surfaced but declined to specify whether any action would be taken against him.

"We have a zero-tolerance policy. Anyone who engages in fraudulent voter registration activities should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law," said RNC spokeswoman Christine Iverson.

McAuliffe said the Democratic party in Nevada planned to file a lawsuit on Wednesday seeking "relief for voters who were victimized, whose cards were ripped up."

He denied that the Democratic party was linked to improper registration activities. "This is an issue because the RNC (Republican party) is involved itself directly in the funding. This is not some outside group. The DNC has never been involved in any activity like this," he said. (Additional reporting by Curt Hopkins in Eugene, Oregon)


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