A staff person working on the president’s re-election campaign helped an undercover journalist register to vote in Florida despite the reporter’s expressed intention to vote for Barack Obama twice in the hotly contested presidential race, video reviewed by Watchdog.org shows.
Casting more than one ballot in the same election is a violation of federal and state statutes. Experts said helping someone violate election law is also a crime.
The video, produced by independent journalist James O’Keefe, also shows Democratic activists helping register an undercover reporter in New York. The reporter says he’s going to vote twice — in Minnesota and in New York.
But the most arresting footage shows an Organizing for America staffer in the group’s Houston office providing a video journalist with an application to request a Florida mail-in ballot, even though the journalist has made it clear she also intends to vote in Texas.
O’Keefe, whose Project Veritas organization produced the video, identified the OFA staffer as Stephanie Caballero. Documents reviewed by Watchdog.org, and included in the video, indicate that Caballero is on the payroll of the Democratic National Committee.
When the undercover reporter declares that she intends to vote twice in the general election, Caballero laughs. She asks the reporter, “Are you going to do what I think you’re going to do?”
“Well,” the reporter replies, “I mean, if no one’s going to know . . . .”
Caballero laughs and replies, “You’re so hilarious.”
“I have several friends who have done that and they said that it’s no problem so I figure . . . no one knows,” the undercover reporter says.
In response, the campaign worker seems to suggest that the legal problem of voting in two states is less important than the practical problem of what to say if you’re caught voting twice: “Come up with like, if anyone checks, say, ‘I don’t know.’”
“You can’t vote twice in a federal election,” said J. Christian Adams, a former Justice Department elections lawyer and author of “Injustice,” a best-selling novel about voter fraud. “Obviously, this Stephanie Caballero doesn’t find it as offensive as I do that someone may be planning to vote twice.”
Specifically, Adams said, voting twice violates 42 U.S.C. 1973i (e), which states that anyone who “conspires with another individual for the purpose of encouraging his false registration to vote… shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than five years.”
“It’s absolutely illegal to help someone double vote,” said Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He cited 42 U.S.C.1973gg-10.
“A lot of people don’t realize that, in addition to everything that everyone knows about the National Voter Registration Act — that it allowed mail-in ballots and registration through vehicle licensing departments — the last part of the statute put in criminal penalties for fraudulent registration,” said von Spakovsky, who had not yet seen the video.
Chief among the crimes outlined in the code, said von Spakovsky, is the requirement that “you can only register someplace where your claim to be a permanent resident. Obviously, you can’t be a resident of two states.”
Von Spakovsky said helping a voter cast two ballots “would be a violation because you’re submitting fraudulent information in a registration form.”
He said prosecutors also might charge voter-registration workers in similar situations with more general violations — conspiracy, for instance, and aiding and abetting a criminal act.
“It’s clearly a violation of Voting Rights Act,” said Trey Trainor, an Austin attorney who previously served as general counsel for the Texas Secretary of State.
The U.S. Department of Justice has been fighting Texas’ ability to implement the new rules in the Voter ID state lawmakers passed in 2011. That Voter ID bill increased the penalty on people who vote twice.
“The Obama administration is colluding with the Obama campaign to fight Texas” on the very thing depicted in the video.
“It’s just another blatant example to steal an election,” said State Rep. Larry Taylor, R-League City and chairman of House Elections Committee. “These are crimes.”
He was incredulous at the laughter and the willingness to help someone do vote twice.
Taylor said the very same group that produced the video previously succeeded in having someone impersonate U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
“That’s why you don’t leave a gaping hole in your law.”
Taylor said state lawmakers must remain vigilante on these issues and constantly plug holes that exist.
“We obviously have people who are willing to do anything to steal an election. That’s a subversion of the will of the people.”
True the Vote spokesman Logan Churchwell said the organization has been examining the trend of voters registered in two states, focusing on New York and Florida, Rhode Island and Florida and Ohio and Florida.
So far the group has found 99 examples of what the video shows.
“It was not a surprise to True the Vote. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Not everybody in Texas agrees the video is a smoking gun — or even a gun.
Fred Lewis, longtime Austin lawyer and good-government advocate, said he doesn’t think the video amounts to much.
“It seems to me the reporter is talking about committing a crime,” he said. “I never hear the Obama staff person say, ‘Can I help you commit a crime.’”
While she never asks the question in quite that way, the video shows the volunteer handing the undercover reporter a Florida absentee-ballot request form.
Lewis said that the edits in the video “are problematic,” but even with the edits there is nothing to implicate the Obama staffer. Indeed, he said that, if anything, the nervous laughter from the Obama staffer shows that she wasn’t sure what to do in the face of someone saying they may do something illegal.
“It’s not criminal to laugh and not know what to do,” he said. The Obama staffer “doesn’t encourage her to vote twice. She doesn’t aid her. Basically it’s somebody giggling and flabbergasted.”
But New Jersey Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, cautioned, “It’s not a violation until the (second) vote is cast.”
“The worker should have said, ‘That’s illegal, you can only vote in one place. Which is it going to be?’” O’Scanlon said. New Jersey was one of the states where O’Keefe filmed his investigation.
Phillip Griffin, a consultant to political campaigns outside Virginia, said, “There are tens of thousands of people who are arguably residents of more than one state.” But Griffin said election law requires people to vote where they pay their taxes and have their cars registered.
Griffin said he believes there is a “concerted effort” to recruit dual voters — particularly among snowbird seniors and college students.
Until recently, Griffin said, most of that registration effort was waged by Democrats.
Then, two weeks ago, the Republican Party of Florida fired Strategic Allied Consulting amid allegations the firm filed questionable voter registrations in Palm Beach County.
The Republican parties in Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia also fired Virginia-based SAC as those states neared their voter-registration deadlines.
Griffin said tracking down multiple registrations is nearly impossible in the frenetic weeks before a general election. But he applauded the state of Maine for culling new voter lists to identify any residents who were signed up in other states as well.
“They found more than 200 cases,” Griffin related. “The attorney general was proactive, sending letters saying, ‘If you don’t fix this, your registration will be considered illegal.’”
The cases portrayed in the O’Keefe video are open to both federal and local prosecution, von Spakovsky said.
“The key is, and this is what you’ll see in the statute, if you double vote with a federal candidate on the ballot, you’ve violated federal law,” von Spakovsky said. “If the same ballot includes local candidates, that’s a violation of state law.”
Von Spakovsky pointed to a fraud case prosecuted locally after the 2008 election. In that incident, he said, “a number of Obama campaign workers were charged in Ohio after it was discovered they were residents of other states sent to Ohio to work on the campaign. They took advantage of easy registration laws there to vote in Ohio, even though they were not residents of state.”
In their book “Who’s counting? How fraudsters and bureaucrats put your vote at risk,” von Spakovsky and co-author John Fund say the Ohio prosecution ended in admissions of guilt by the campaign workers.
Minnesota: The Al Franken comedy of errors
Though voting fraud-deniers assert that violations are small — if they exist at all — even the smallest illegal variation in an election night vote count could swing an election.
Minnesota voters found out the hard way, when Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken squared off in a vicious U.S. Senate battle royale in the November 2008 election. Two weeks after election night, the state declared Coleman the victor with a narrow 215-vote edge, a margin so small it triggered an automatic recount.
After months of retabulation and court battles, Franken emerged victorious by a mere 312 votes. More than 2.9 million Minnesotans cast ballots in that race.
Fund and von Spakovsky studied that race and found that at least 243 people either convicted of voter fraud or were awaiting trial for allegedly casting illegal ballots in that contest. Minnesota Majority, a conservative-leaning interest group in that state, says it suspects nearly 1,200 felons voted in the Coleman-Franken contest, a clear breach of law.
The problem with snowbirds
Election observers say the problem of double-voting is greater in states like Florida, winter home to visitors with permanent residences in colder parts of the country.
One group found cross-referenced voter registration lists between Ohio and Florida to identify voters with matching full names, birth dates, addresses and voting histories.
Catherine Engelbrecht, president of True the Vote, a nonpartisan election-integrity organization, said her group found more than 19,000 Ohio voters claiming Florida mailing addresses. More than 6,390 people held voter registrations in both states.
True the Vote reportedly found 534 individuals casting ballots in federal elections in both Ohio and Florida. Engelbrecht said 34 cases were turned over to federal and state authorities last week for investigation. Another 32 cases involving dually registered New York and Florida voters also were submitted by TTV.
A recent Pew Center study estimated that 2.75 million Americans are registered in at least two jurisdictions. Some of that can be traced to individuals who have moved. The study did not give a party breakdown.
New Jersey activists in the O’Keefe video seem nonchalant about the assertions of an undercover journalist that he’s going to vote three times for Obama.
But Richard Mroz, an election law attorney and a member of the New Jersey Republican National Lawyers Association, said local and state registrars have the technology to ensure the integrity of voting rolls.
“If there’s a pattern (of dual registrations), this is very troubling,” he said. “It’s ironic that we send people to be election observers in emerging democracies, but some officials here — particularly at the local level — just don’t take their job seriously.”
Florida: ‘It’s happened here before’
“This is a problem that’s happened in Florida before,” said Clifford Jones, law lecturer at University of Florida’s Levin College of Law in Gainesville. “Usually, it’s organizations hired by or led by Democrat-leaning groups — this year we seem to have it with Republican groups too.
“The ultimate harm happens when some of those registrations are used by someone to vote,” said Jones. “We think it’s relatively rare, but it’s difficult to know for sure.”
In recent weeks, the president’s re-election campaign in Florida has been making major pushes for absentee voting, starting the “Vote Now!” effort aimed at getting as many people as possible to vote by mail ballot.
Jones said that that problem is especially troublesome in Florida, which boasts a high population of winter vacationers from across the country.
“We have a lot of so-called ‘snowbirds’ here, who spend their winter here and have an address. We’ve seen cases of them registering to vote in Florida while still registered in their home state,” said Jones. “They may cast an absentee ballot in their state of origin and also vote, either in person or by absentee, in Florida.”
A notable example is Democratic U.S. House candidate Wendy Rosen, who was forced to drop out of the congressional race last month after allegations that she voted twice in the 2008 elections — in Maryland where she was running for public office and in Florida — drawing the attention of state prosecutors.
A second O’Keefe video released Wednesday features Erin Haust, a Republican and native Floridian who tells O’Keefe she remains registered in the Sunshine State despite moving to Minnesota more than 14 years ago.
Haust says she has tried to have her name removed from the voter rolls in Hillsborough County at least four times since 2008, but to no avail.
She then takes this information to the local OFA campaign office in Hopkins, Minn., on Oct. 9, where she tells workers that she will vote in Minnesota and also submit an absentee ballot in Florida.
“I’m not going to say anything about it,” said one Obama campaign worker. “That’s that.”
OHIO: DEFINITELY A CRIME
Ohio elections experts say that similar activities, if they took place in Ohio, would be punishable.
“The provisions of Ohio Revised Code Section 3599.11 expressly make it a felony to either register to vote by use of a false statement or to induce another person to register to vote by means of a false statement(s),” said William M. Todd, an elections lawyer in Columbus. “One of the critical elements of being a qualified voter in Ohio is to be a resident of this state. Accordingly, the type of scenario in the (O’Keefe video), if it occurred in Ohio, would violate Ohio law.”
Mark Weaver, a former deputy attorney general for Ohio who teaches elections law at the University of Akron, said, “As a general rule, someone who knowingly assists another in the commission of a crime can be prosecuted for acting as an accessory or conspiracy.”
Montana: ‘We just didn’t see that stuff’
Montana’s chief elections officer says there’s little to no chance voter fraud occurs on her watch, but a new video produced by independent journalist James O’Keefe reveals a simple loophole that could be exploited, thereby allowing someone to vote twice for president.
Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, in a scathing editorial published Sept. 4 in The Missoulian, assured voters that shrieks of Treasure State voter fraud amount to crying “wolf.”
“Those who use the same anecdotal stories while providing no facts or proof are no different than the little shepherd boy who cried ‘wolf’ when there was no wolf,” McCulloch warned. “Eventually, no one paid any attention to his cries. I am confident Montana voters will do the same.”
Though McCulloch provides an ironclad guarantee that voter fraud never occurs within state borders, a different election official on Tuesday told Watchdog.org that the fraud-by-absentee-ballot process demonstrated in O’Keefe’s video is theoretically possible in Montana.
Yellowstone County elections administrator Bret Rutherford said in a phone interview the scenario’s depicted in O’Keefe’s videos are entirely conceivable in Montana — though he’s skeptical violations of that nature occur.
Two plausible circumstances exist that could lead to voter fraud involving Montana. An out-of-state resident, like a snowbird or college student, moves to Montana while maintaining another address elsewhere. That person could request an absentee ballot from the previous state while simultaneously registering to vote in Montana.
Sure, the elections offices typically ask for a previous address to notify the other state, but new residents can still register without putting down their alternative information.
The same can also happen in reverse: A Montana student could leave the state, register elsewhere while keeping a parent’s address and still request an absentee ballot through the mail.
Montana would have absolutely no way of detecting the malfeasance.
State code 13-35-209 governs fraudulent registration in Montana, making it illegal for anyone to “knowingly cause, procure, or allow the person to be registered in the official register of any election district of any county knowing that the person is not entitled to the registration.”
McCulloch’s office did not return a call for comment Tuesday afternoon. Her office mailed out a record 229,178 absentee ballots Tuesday. That represents about 34 percent of Montana’s 664,000 registered voters.
Still, Rutherford is skeptical absentee violations occur. He said he relies on his experience setting up Montana’s statewide voter database a few years ago. When the computer came online, he expected to purge dual records — residents crossing county lines to vote twice in critical elections. But he found none.
“We just didn’t see that stuff,” Rutherford explained. “So, in my mind, we wouldn’t see it state-to-state, either.”
Voter fraud becomes more than the abstract this year in Montana, when a single election — the tight U.S. Senate race between Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg and first-term Democrat Jon Tester — could decide the balance of power in Congress.
Kelly Carson, Jon Cassidy, Dustin Hurst, Yael Ossowski, Curt Olson, Will Swaim, Trent Seibert and Kenric Ward contributed to this report.
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