Shot to the Foot
In the face of scares about “voter fraud” leading to restrictive voter ID laws, a bombshell exploded days ago when it was revealed that the company hired by the Republican National Committee to run voter registration drives in vital swing states has been submitting fraudulent registration forms.
It’s worth looking at the background and context of what happened, the details of what is happening, and the possibilities for what might happen. We’ve seen this tale before, but past is not prologue. It will turn out differently this time. Perhaps this is what it looks like when a whole national political party shoots itself in its collective foot.
Nathan Sproul, a Republican strategist and “voting consultant”, formed a company this past June, Strategic Allied Consulting, to lead Republican voter registration drives in Florida, Colorado, Virginia, New Hampshire, Nevada, California, and North Carolina, as well as get-out-the-vote efforts in a number of states including Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa. Sproul has been a mover and shaker in Republican politics. He is a former executive director of the Arizona Republican Party. He is currently the head of Lincoln Strategy Group, a national political consulting firm based in Arizona, and is a former leader of the Arizona Christian Coalition. His website brags that his “wide ranging expertise in both campaign management and government relations, helps him manage clients to success.” Lincoln Strategies was active in both 2008 and 2010 in registration drives. The RNC paid Sproul around $3 million for a 2012 voter registration drive. The Romney campaign had Sproul working for them as long ago as last November.
Early last week, the story broke that someone operating in Florida and hired by Strategic Allied Consulting, then presented as a lone wolf, had turned in a number of fraudulent voter registration forms. Unverifiable names, similar signatures, and fake addresses aroused suspicions. At first, the problem seemed confined to a single county, Palm Beach, but it quickly spread to at least eight counties. Even as late as Saturday, September 29, “Local and national GOP officials said the problems in Palm Beach County appear to stem from a single employee.” In Palm Beach alone, “about 100 registration forms were affected.” The problems didn’t stop there, however.
Already by September 28, the Colorado Republican Party terminated its contract with Strategic Allied, because of allegations of fraud. There is evidence of similar fraud in Virginia and Nevada. A video appeared on the internet, as early as September 21, of a young woman working for Strategic Allied, who revealed that she saw her mission as registering Republicans, rather than registering voters. It has also come to light that “Sproul has operated other firms that have been accused in the past of improprieties designed to help Republican candidates, including dumping registration forms filled out by Democrats,” though there have, as yet, been no “criminal charges.” Nor was any of this terribly secret:
In 2004, employees with his previous firms were accused of a wide assortment of infractions: destroying voter registration forms of Democrats, duping college students into registering as Republicans, refusing to register Democrats or independents. Nevada, Oregon and Arizona opened investigations but closed them without charging anyone.
Strategic Allied apparently knew of the current problems in Florida perhaps as early as the middle of August, but did nothing. Representatives from Strategic Allied attempted to mislead reporters investigating the matter. Whether this rises to the level of a “coverup” is unimportant. The point is, it could have been known and revealed much sooner — or perhaps even prevented, simply by hiring someone else.
If much of this story sounds familiar, it should. In 2009, following the successful efforts of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) to register voters in the 2008 election, stories broke about fraudulent voter registration forms. Independent contractors working for ACORN were paid according to the number of registration forms they turned in. A number of these contractors submitted forms they had apparently filled in themselves, with false names and fake addresses, in an attempt to defraud ACORN and receive payment for work they had not done. Secretly-made videos — selectively edited — also cast the organization in a bad light. Republicans complained bitterly, and all funding was withdrawn from the group. The eventual outcome:
Following the publication of the videos and withdrawal of funding, four different independent investigations by various state and city Attorneys General and the GAO released in 2009 and 2010 cleared ACORN, finding its employees had not engaged in criminal activities and that the organization had managed its federal funding appropriately, and calling the videos deceptively and selectively edited to present the workers in the worst possible light. Despite this, by March 2010, 15 of ACORN’s 30 state chapters had already closed and the group announced it was closing its remaining state chapters and disbanding.
ACORN was killed before it could register voters for the 2010 midterms. It is worth noting that even had all the charges been true, the actions of ACORN would not have adversely affected any election. ACORN itself had identified the fraudulent registration forms, and these false names were not actually registered in any state. Since none of the people actually existed (“Mickey Mouse,” for instance), none of them would have voted even if some of the forms had slipped through.
At least 180 restrictive bills introduced since the beginning of 2011 in 41 states … 27 restrictive bills currently pending in 6 states … 25 laws and 2 executive actions passed since the beginning of 2011 in 19 states … 16 states have passed restrictive voting laws and executive actions that have the potential to impact the 2012 election… These states account for 198 electoral votes, or 73 percent of the total needed to win the presidency… Of these, restrictions from 18 laws and executive actions are currently in effect in 13 states…
This is the legacy of the faux panic over ACORN. And now, we have the Republican ACORN, in the form of Strategic Allied Consulting.
As I pointed out, the actual effect of the ACORN false registrations would have been non-existent. Quite likely, the fraudulent Strategic Allied registrations will also amount to nothing, although if legitimate registrations for Democratic voters were destroyed, that could matter. More important would be a self-inflicted wound. With the discovery of widespread fraud, the RNC has been forced to withdraw funding for Strategic Allied, for both its voter registration drive, and for its GOTV activities. As most of these contracts were in important swing states, this could conceivably affect the number of Republican votes in the places they could matter the most.
And here is where the big difference lies, in comparing ACORN to Strategic Allied. The problems with ACORN centered around individuals who scammed money from ACORN. There was, according to all the independent investigations, no intent on the part of ACORN to defraud anyone. And as soon as ACORN discovered what was going on, they reported it.
In contrast, Strategic Allied apparently tried to conceal the fraud for as long as it could. Yet the past actions of Nathan Sproul and the companies he created had exhibited these tendencies for years, and these patterns had been revealed long ago. The RNC hired him anyway. The recent shocking revelations should have shocked no one, and should not have come as revelations. If the fallout from this scandal hurts the Republican Party or its candidates, it’s a case of knowingly having shot themselves in the foot.
Does the RNC have time to hire someone else to complete its voter registration and GOTV efforts in these vital swing states? Probably. How well can a last-minute operation be expected to perform? Or can the RNC manage to re-hire basically the same organization, re-formed under a different name?
- Voter Fraud
- Romney’s campaign must have known Sproul’s infamous past with Voter Fraud. The RNC knew.
- About Mr. Sproul
- Amid fraud allegations, GOP ends voter registration push in five swing states
About dcpetterson (186 posts)
D. C. Petterson is a novelist and a software consultant in Minnesota who has been writing science fiction since the age of six. He is the author of A Melancholy Humour, Rune Song and Still Life. He lives with his wife, two dogs, two cats, and a lizard, and insists that grandchildren are the reward for having survived teenagers. When not writing stories or software, he plays guitar and piano, engages in political debate, and reads a lot of history and physics texts—for fun. Follow on Twitter @dcpetterson