ACORN's flood of fraudulent voter registrations

More ACORN stories: here

NM's county has at least 6,000 suspect voter registration cards

The Bernalillo County clerk has notified prosecutors that some 1,100 possibly fraudulent voter registration cards have been turned in to her office.

Some cards in New Mexico's most populous county have the same name as a voter who's already registered, but carry a different birth date or Social Security number; some list someone else's Social Security number; some have addresses that don't exist, Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver said Wednesday.

In one case, a series of about nine cards appears to have been taken directly from the phone book, she said. "Those are sort of the big red flags," Toulouse Oliver said.

The questioned cards came in over a period of time.

"Every once in a while, a card will pop up that we suspect might be possibly fraudulent and we sequester those," Toulouse Oliver said. "In anticipation of the upcoming election, we gathered those together and started to notify law enforcement."

Problem registrations don't make it to the voter rolls, Toulouse Oliver said. The clerk's office doesn't enter information into the system when it's unable to reach a voter to resolve questions.

"We do have a process in our office that is able to catch a lot of this stuff. Between our process and working together with law enforcement, I think these potentially fraudulent cards are not making it into the system and I think that is a good thing," she said.

Toulouse Oliver said she notified the district attorney, the state attorney general and the U.S. attorney because the election code is not specific about which should take the lead. False voter registration is a fourth-degree felony.

District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said her office is reviewing the clerk's letter and probably will ask a law enforcement agency to investigate. She also said she will contact the attorney general's office and U.S. attorney's office to coordinate efforts.

Toulouse Oliver said she has not done any analysis on who turned in suspect cards.

In 2004, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, ACORN, came under scrutiny for paying workers to sign up voters and offering bonuses for turning in more than 24 registrations a day.

Before the 2004 presidential race, then-Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera—now secretary of state—said her office found 3,000 registration cards with problems that invalidated them. Those included faulty addresses, no addresses, bad signatures or no Social Security numbers. The Postal Service returned 400 cards as undeliverable.

San Juan County Clerk Fran Hanhardt of Aztec said Wednesday every clerk gets questionable registrations, and that much of the problem comes from outside groups that register voters. Paying for each registration card leads to some workers "being creative on how they submit registration forms for payment," she said.

"We try to make sure that's not happening, that someone's not registering their dogs," she said.

Suspicions might be raised, for example, by a number of cards being turned in all at once with handwriting that can be compared, Hanhardt said.

"So you set those aside and give them a second, third and fourth look," then turn anything suspicious over to law enforcement, she said.

The northwestern New Mexico county has seen a "minimal amount" of suspect registrations this election, Hanhardt said.

She praised the Bernalillo County clerk's office for diligence.

"Hurray for them for catching it. We are processing hundreds of new voter registrations a day so I have to imagine they are getting thousands," Hanhardt said.

The Bernalillo County clerk's office has received about 100,000 voter registration cards since January.

Toulouse Oliver's office goes through a process before adding each card to the voter rolls. Workers first see if a voter already is in the system, checking by name, address, Social Security number and birth date.

"That's how we were able to flag a lot of this," Toulouse Oliver said.

Workers attempt to contact voters if there's a question, checking whether they filled out a new card or trying to fill the gaps on incomplete registration cards.

"On occasion, a voter will say, 'No, I didn't fill out a card,'" Toulouse Oliver said.

Her office still has 12,000 registrations to be processed—6,000 have not been handled, and 6,000 others are incomplete or have potential problems such as incorrect addresses, Toulouse Oliver said.

Some of those cards might eventually end up on the questioned pile, "but we have to go through the process first before we can establish that they are potentially fraudulent," she said.

The law doesn't require the clerk's office to contact a voter about a questioned registration card. "If it's incomplete, we can stamp 'rejected' and send it back," Toulouse Oliver said. But, she said, clerks try to resolve issues so legitimate voters can participate.

The last day to register for the Nov. 4 general election is Oct. 7.

Hanhardt questioned why any voter would hand over personal information to a third party to register when it's easy to register with a clerk. She urged voters to be cautious who they give their birth date, Social Security number and address to.

"I would never, ever give that information to someone I don't know. If it's someone you know, go ahead, but if it's somebody you've never seen before, why would you do that?" she said.

Her office has taken out newspaper ads, telling newly registered voters to call the clerk if they haven't received their voter card in two weeks.

Clerks work hard to head off problems in advance, Hanhardt said.

"If people show up on Election Day and they think elections just happen, then every clerk has done their jobs well," she said.


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