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Elections official with ties to ACORN lets voter fraud go unchecked
Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is breaking federal law by not giving county elections boards the chance to determine whether new voter registrations are fraudulent, a federal judge ruled this evening.
"It is hard to imagine a public interest more compelling than safeguarding the legitimacy of the election of the president of the United States," said Judge George C. Smith of U.S. District Court in Columbus in upholding the Ohio Republican Party's request for a court order.
Brunner's office said she is filing an immediate appeal with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Smith, appointed by President Reagan, said the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requires states not only to verify the addresses and other identifying information provided by newly registered voters with the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the federal Social Security Administration, but also to provide counties with the names of new voters whose records did not match.
Brunner's office had been doing the computerized verification, but the GOP argued that Brunner had not made the names available to county elections boards. The judge gave her a week to comply.
The judge said he lacked the authority to order the counties to clean up the voter rolls once they had the list, but he noted that Ohio law permits challenges to absentee ballots.
Meanwhile, authorities in Greene County are seeking records on all 302 people there who took advantage of a six-day window in which Ohioans could register to vote and cast a ballot at the same time.
County Prosecutor Stephen Haller and Sheriff Gene Fischer, both Republicans, are seeking voter-registration cards and change-of-address forms from the county board.
Haller acknowledged that he was not aware of specific fraud accusations but said the sheriff acted on general complaints about the possibility that students might vote twice - once at home and once at school. The county includes several colleges and universities, such as Cedarville, Central State, Wilberforce and Wright State. Democrat Barack Obama's campaign targeted college campuses in a push to sign up new voters.
Haller is the ex-law partner of Mike DeWine, the former GOP U.S. senator who is chairing Republican John McCain's Ohio campaign.
In his 16-page ruling, Smith cited the "millions of qualified electors across the state of Ohio whose confidence in the electoral process will be undermined if new voter registrations are not verified in accordance with (federal law), and if unqualified individuals are permitted to cast votes. This would demean the voting process and unlawfully dilute the votes of qualified voters."
Brunner said in a statement that her office "will do everything within its power to ensure that the state's 88 county boards of elections can continue to allow early voting to proceed uninterrupted and to assist them with their preparation to ensure a smooth election for the voters of Ohio."
Smith specifically cited questionable activity of one group that registered thousands of new Ohio voters: the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN.
Ohio Republican Deputy Chairman Kevin DeWine said the ruling spoke volumes about Brunner, a Democrat.
"Her refusal to comply with federal law raises serious concerns about her ability to objectively oversee this election. It's especially troubling in light of her connection to ACORN and that group's stunning confession this week of fraudulent registration activity happening right here in Ohio," DeWine said.
An ACORN representative is on a Brunner advisory committee, while Republicans say Obama has "strong ties" to ACORN, serving in the past as an attorney and "leadership trainer" for the group.
Within three hours of the ruling, DeWine sent out a GOP fund-raising appeal, saying, "Please contribute today and help us fight the legal effort by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and her Democrat allies to let voter fraud go unchecked."
Earlier in the day, national Republicans turned up the heat on allegations of voter-registration fraud by ACORN.
Sean Cairncross, chief counsel for the Republican National Committee, called ACORN a "quasi-criminal organization" in a conference call with reporters.
He pointed to past legal problems for ACORN, which registers low-income, minority and young voters, and press reports about bogus registration cards being submitted this fall in Ohio and several other states.
The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, for example, reportedly is investigating about 50 duplicate or fictitious forms submitted by ACORN. Group leaders reportedly have told county officials they can't stop all fraud. The group's headquarters in Las Vegas also was raided recently amid reports of phony voter registrations, some of which simply listed the names of Dallas Cowboys players.
Franklin County had problems with ACORN in 2004 after authorities discovered dozens of voter registration forms with fake names or false information. A part-time worker for the group was indicted on charges he forged a registration form.
So far this year, officials said they have had 11 challenges to new voter registrations, and about half had been submitted by ACORN. Elections Director Michael Stinziano and Deputy Matthew Damschroder said it's impossible to know how many bad registration cards might get through.
But Damschroder, a Republican, said ACORN has been "markedly better" in the county since 2004, and there's no evidence of anyone casting a ballot using a fraudulent registration.
Asked for a response, ACORN spokesman Charles D. Jackson wanted questions submitted in writing but still didn't respond.