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"Myth" of Voter Fraud Focus of Senate Hearing; Iglesias Set to Testify

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Last year, during the height of the Congressional investigation into the firings of US attorneys, David Iglesias and John McKay, two of the nine federal prosecutors who were ousted, revealed that they were pressured by Republicans to bring charges of vote fraud against people who intended to voter for Democrats in separate elections in New Mexico and Washington state several years ago.

Iglesias and McKay said they investigated the allegations but did not find evidence to support charges of voter fraud leveled by Republicans. Both men believe their refusal to convene a federal criminal grand jury to pursue the allegations led to their ouster.

There is no concrete evidence of systemic voter fraud in the United States. Many election integrity experts believe voter fraud is a ploy by Republicans to suppress minorities and poor people from voting. Historically, those groups tend to vote for Democratic candidates. Raising red flags about the integrity of the ballots, experts believe, is an attempt by GOP operatives to swing elections to their candidates as well as an attempt to use the fear of criminal prosecution to discourage individuals from voting in future races.

Now a Senate panel chaired by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein is investigating whether the myth of voter fraud has led to "disenfranchisement" among individual voters.

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration is scheduled to hold a hearing to explore the matter. Iglesias is one of the witnesses who will testify about the issue. In an interview, he said he intends to recount how his office was pressured to file voter fraud charges.

Iglesias said in an interview that he had set up a task force and launched an in-depth investigation into claims of voter fraud in New Mexico and found the allegations to be “non-provable in court.” He said he is certain that his firing was due, in part, to the fact that he would not file criminal charges of voter fraud in New Mexico. Iglesias added that, based on evidence that had surfaced thus far and "Karl Rove's obsession with voter fraud issues throughout the country," he now believes GOP operatives had wanted him to go after Democratic-funded organizations in an attempt to swing the 2006 midterm elections to Republicans.

The other witnesses scheduled to testify Wednesday include Robin Carnahan, the Secretary of State of Missouri, Robert Simms, and Georgia’s Deputy Secretary of State. Republicans have pushed through controversial voter identification bills in those states that appeared to make it difficult for people who don't have driver’s licenses to vote. Federal courts blocked the measures. Additionally, Justin Levitt, an attorney and expert on voting issues who teaches at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, and Jeff Milyo, a professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia department of economics, will also be on hand to testify.

In a column click here published in the Washington Post last year, Levitt said "the notion of widespread voter fraud... is itself a fraud. Evidence of actual fraud by individual voters is painfully skimpy."

A common thread among Republican claims of voter fraud in New Mexico and Missouri that will be discussed during Wednesday's hearing is the work conducted in Missouri and New Mexico by a now defunct group called the American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR), formerly headed by Mark "Thor" Hearne, a Republican operative who served as the national election counsel to the Bush/Cheney presidential campaign. Hearne worked closely with Rove and the Republican National Committee to raise issues of voter fraud in battleground states during the 2004 presidential election. Hearne's organization touted itself as an organization that sought to defend voter rights and increase public confidence in the fairness and outcome of elections. However, evidence has surfaced that showed Hearne's group played a major role in suppressing the votes of people who intended to cast ballots for Democrats in states where Republicans faced tough reelection campaigns.

Additionally, Hearne and his associates are believed to have played a direct role in Iglesias's firing as well as the forced resignation of Todd Graves, the former US attorney for Kansas City, Missouri.

Graves was forced to resign in March 2006, Mckay, the former US attorney for the Western District of Washington, believes, because Graves would not file criminal charges of voter fraud against four employees of ACORN, a group that registers low-income individuals who tend to cast votes for Democrats, nor would he bow to pressure from Hearne and a Justice Department official to file a civil suit against Carnahan, Missouri's Secretary of State, on charges that Carnahan failed to take action on cases of voter fraud. The DOJ's Civil Rights Division filed the civil suit against Carnahan, which was later dismissed by a federal court judge who ruled, "The United States has not shown that any Missouri resident was denied his or her right to vote as a result of deficiencies alleged by the United States. Nor has the United States shown that any voter fraud has occurred."

Graves was swiftly replaced by Bradley Schlozman, the former head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division's voting-rights section, who had regularly clashed with Graves about cases of voter fraud and who spoke to Hearne regularly about US attorneys who allegedly refused to pursue such cases.

McKay said that when Schlozman was selected to replace Graves as US attorney, "many eyebrows were raised."

"Many US attorneys were concerned when Mr. Schlozman was appointed," McKay said in an interview last year. "He was the deputy in the [Justice Department's] civil rights division, but I don't think he had the sort of background and experience we would have expected as a United States attorney," McKay told me. "So I would say it would be true that many eyebrows were raised when he was first appointed. Of course, we didn't know that Todd Graves had been forced to resign ... and it appears that he was forced to resign at least in part because Mr. Schlozman himself was trying to push the prosecution of voter fraud cases."

Schlozman filed federal criminal charges of voter fraud against members of ACORN on the evening of the November 2006 mid-term election. The case was later dismissed and Schlozman came under fire for his actions. Long standing Justice Department policy states that charges related to voter fraud should not be close to an election. Schlozman testified before a Senate committee last year that he received approval to file the voter fraud charges from a Justice Department official who was instrumental in drafting the guidelines urging that US attorneys avoid filing charges claiming voter fraud at the height of an election. At the time, Iglesias stated that he had worked with the same Election Crimes Unit Attorney and simply did "not believe" Schlozman's testimony.

Hearne also took part in a conference call during the 2004 presidential campaign with several high-ranking Bush administration officials who discussed strategies of suppressing votes in battleground states, such as Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania, where Bush was trailing Democratic nominee John Kerry.

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Jason Leopold is Deputy Managing Editor of Truthout.org and the founding editor of the online investigative news magazine The Public Record, http://www.pubrecord.org. He is the author of the National Bestseller, "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit (more...)
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