Magazine article The Christian Century

Hypothetical Fraud: Behind the Firing of David Iglesias: Despite Public Complaints about Voter Fraud, Investigators Found Nothing to Prosecute

Magazine article The Christian Century

Hypothetical Fraud: Behind the Firing of David Iglesias: Despite Public Complaints about Voter Fraud, Investigators Found Nothing to Prosecute

Article excerpt

THE JUSTICE Department has made stamping out fraud by individual voters a priority. Since the 2002 launch of its Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative, 86 individuals had been convicted of ballot fraud, the department boasted in a press release last year. Federal prosecutor David Iglesias of New Mexico, one of the eight U.S. attorneys recently fired by the Bush asministration, had twice been invited to be a trainer at the Justice Department's annual symposium on voter fraud because he created a task force to investigate allegations of fraud in the 2004 election season.

But Iglesias's investigation did not lead him to make any indictments, so state GOP leaders complained to the White House and the Justice Department that he wasn't being aggressive enough. By December 2006 Iglesias, who was also under fire for failing to seek indictments in a local corruption case, was out of a job.

What were the GOP leaders hoping would come from Iglesias's investigation? A look into the Larranaga voter fraud case, which concluded just before Iglesias convened his task force, provides clues about the tactics and politics involved in voter fraud cases. It also suggests why Iglesias didn't find any cases of fraud in New Mexico, despite Republicans' complaints.

Attorney John Boyd, who defended the county clerk of Bernalillo County and the secretary of state of New Mexico in the Larranaga case, recounted the events leading to the lawsuit: In the summer of 2004, when new registrations were running heavily in favor of Democrats (thanks to successful third-party registration drives), Republicans walked into the county clerk's office and asked if there were any problem registrations. Yes, they were told, about 10 percent had been set aside. Some registrations were illegible, some listed a post office box instead of a street address--"the typical gamut of what can be wrong when people are hurriedly filling out forms," said Boyd. Republican leaders then called a press conference to announce that some 3,000 fraudulent registrations had been submitted, and they filed a lawsuit, with state legislator Larry Larranaga as the lead plaintiff.

Even though the 3,000 applications were ones that had already been rejected by the clerk many of them for innocuous problems like missing information--the phrase "3,000 fraudulent registrations" became a mantra for the plaintiffs' supporters and appeared in media reports throughout the controversy.

When filing the suit, the plaintiffs attached registration forms for six people as examples of the alleged fraud. One form lacked a signature; several other registrants had filed duplicate cards with nonmatching signatures. (Sometimes people fill out a second form if they forget that they've already registered or aren't sure whether their first application went through.) The defense wanted to know why the signatures didn't match, so it contacted the people who had filled out the duplicate cards. In one case a college student rushing to class had signed the second card without setting it on a fiat surface. In another case a husband had signed for his wife after a worker at a voter registration table told him it was OK to do so. According to the defense, none of the attached forms had made it past the clerk's office, so none would have resulted in a fraudulent vote. "These were their best cases," said Boyd.

What the plaintiffs wanted from the judge was a new interpretation of New Mexico's voter identification statute. The federal Help American Vote Act, passed in 2002, says that anyone who will be voting for the first time in a particular jurisdiction and who registered by mail must present identification either by sending it in the mail with their registration form or by presenting it at the polls. …

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