Thursday, October 12, 2006

Fraud alleged in St. Louis voter sign-up

Yahoo! News
Fraud alleged in St. Louis voter sign-up
By JEFF DOUGLAS, Associated Press Writer

Election officials say hundreds of potentially bogus registration cards, including ones for dead and underage people, were submitted by a branch of a national group that has been criticized in the past for similar offenses.

At least 1,500 potentially fraudulent registration cards were turned in by the St. Louis branch of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, leading up to Wednesday's registration deadline for the Nov. 7 election, said Kim Mathis, chairwoman of the St. Louis City Board of Election Commissioners.

Invalid registrations solicited by ACORN workers included duplicate or incomplete ones, a 16-year-old voter, dead people registering, and forged signatures, Mathis said.

"Fifteen hundred may not sound like a lot, but it is a big deal and it disenfranchises the election process," she said. "It's time someone be prosecuted. There's a lot of taxpayer dollars being wasted on this."

Scott Liendecker, director of Republican elections for St. Louis, said his office will turn the matter over to the U.S. attorney's office for possible prosecution once a final count of potentially fraudulent submissions is finished next week.

Mary Wheeler-Jones, the Democratic elections director, said she does not dispute the accusations against ACORN.

ACORN spokesman Brian Mellor told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which first reported the potential fraud, that prosecution could be warranted.

"We try very hard to monitor the employees, but there are chances of things slipping through," Mellor said. He did not return calls from The Associated Press.

ACORN, founded in 1970, sends paid and volunteer workers around cities to sign up new voters. The group ran voter registration drives in Missouri and 16 other states this year. Similar allegations have been made in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Colorado, though no charges have been filed.

This year in Missouri, ACORN has turned in about 40,000 new voter registrations. Half of those were in St. Louis. The other 20,000 were collected in the Kansas City area, according to election officials.

Four ACORN workers were fired over a September 2003 incident after the St. Louis board pointed out more than 1,000 questionable new voter registration forms collected by ACORN.

ACORN registered more than a million U.S. voters in 2004, when it also had to defend itself against fraud allegations. That year, unreadable cards, duplicate registrations and other invalid or potentially fraudulent registrations turned up in Ohio, Minnesota, North Carolina and Virginia.