10/2/08

Felons paid to register Wisconsin voters

More ACORN stories: hereVoter-fraud stories: here

ACORN's voter-fraud perps have plenty of experience

At least seven felons convicted of crimes including cocaine possession and robbery were recruited by a liberal group to register voters in Milwaukee, raising fears they may have committed voter fraud.

All seven were designated as special registration deputies, which allows them to solicit and keep voter registration applications before turning them in to local election officials. "We have a lot of folks with felony records and, frankly, they need jobs," said Carolyn Castore, political director in Wisconsin for the group that hired them.

That group is the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which describes itself as the nation's largest grass-roots community organization of low- and moderate-income people.

Republican Party spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said it was troubling that convicted felons were hired to register voters.

"Obviously, it doesn't smell right," she said. "It is simply irresponsible to allow people who have shown a strong lack of judgment in the past to have such an important role in our democratic process."

It's unclear whether state law prohibits convicted felons from holding such a position.

The law says anyone who can vote can be a special registration deputy, and felons can vote as long as they are no longer on probation or parole. But the attorney for the Government Accountability Board, which runs elections, issued an April 3 memo saying the board's staff believed convicted felons couldn't serve in the role.

Any convicted felon who served as a special registration deputy could face charges, said Assistant Milwaukee County District Attorney Bruce Landgraf. The district attorney's office is reviewing 49 cases submitted by city election officials where election law may have been violated. One person paid by the Community Voters Project was charged Monday with voter fraud.

The Milwaukee Election Commission interpreted the law to mean convicted felons could serve as special registration deputies if they were no longer on probation or parole, said the city's election administrator, Sue Edman. She said she never saw the GAB legal opinion until provided it Wednesday by The Associated Press.

Edman said she will change the commission's procedures to require applicants to attest that they are not convicted felons. Previously, they only had to say they weren't felons on probation or parole.

The commission does not do background checks on the more than 1,200 special registration deputies working in the county, Edman said.

ACORN interpreted the law the same way as Milwaukee election officials. Nowhere in materials provided by state election officials did it say that felons were barred from registering voters, Castore said.

Castore said she knew some of the group's workers had felony convictions, but since she didn't know of any still on probation or parole, she didn't think there was a problem.

The Wisconsin Republican Party provided the AP with records showing that names and addresses of ACORN workers corresponded with convicted felons in the state's online court database.

The Milwaukee Election Commission verified that all seven people were registered as special deputies. Of those, Department of Correction records showed only two were still on probation or parole.

Along with the seven felons, court records show one special registration deputy has a pending felony charge for heroin possession and another is facing a misdemeanor prostitution charge. A third was convicted of misdemeanor prostitution.

Republican leaders, who have pushed unsuccessfully to require voters to present IDs at the polls, say voter fraud has marred elections in Wisconsin since at least 2000.

Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen filed a lawsuit last month demanding state election workers verify thousands of voters' registrations before the Nov. 4 election to comply with federal law.

Democrats say Republicans are trying to disenfranchise voters. They argue that Republicans have been purposefully mailing voter registration cards to Democrats with the wrong address on the return label to create confusion and disenfranchise voters.

Republicans say the mistakes are unintentional.

(customwire.ap.org)

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