Potential voter registration fraud in Florida: GOP’s own 'ACORN' scandal?

The Republican Party fired a voter registration contractor this week after the firm turned in illegible, incorrect, and falsified voter registration forms to Florida election officials.

By , Staff writer

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    A supporter of Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney attends a campaign rally in Sarasota, Florida, September 20, 2012.
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The Republican Party promptly fired a voter registration contractor this week after the firm, Strategic Allied Consulting, turned in illegible, incorrect, and falsified voter registration forms to Florida election officials.

Saying the party has “zero tolerance” for voter fraud, the GOP also filed complaints against the company with the Florida Secretary of State’s office. The company, run by long-time GOP operative Nathan Sproul, says a single employee was responsible for the forged signatures, though the problem, by Friday, had spread to 10 counties.

"This is an issue we take extremely seriously," RNC spokesman Sean Spicer told CBS News. "When allegations were brought to our attention we severed all ties to the firm."

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While reasonable, those explanations could have trouble finding traction among the US electorate, which has watched battles erupt in mostly swing states from Florida to Ohio over control of voter rolls, and heated debates about potential disenfranchisement of key Democratic constituencies, poorer, minority, and elderly voters.

Why do Election 2012 swing states matter? 5 resources to explain.

The allegations are particularly poignant in Florida, which decided the presidential race in 2000 after a massive recount was halted by the US Supreme Court in a way that gave the election to the GOP, and where the current Republican state administration has fought with the US Department of Justice over an effort to weed out illegal immigrants from the state’s voter rolls.

Even more to the point of third-party voter registration contractors, the League of Women Voters sued Florida earlier this month after it instituted a new 48-hour deadline for turning in registration forms. The state relented, reinstating a 10-day deadline.

What’s more, the fraudulent registration findings have echoes of the 2008 controversies over the now-disbanded ACORN community activism group, which was accused by Republicans in 2008 of falsifying forms.

Brad Friedman, who runs the electoral watchdog Brad Blog, helped break the story, tying it to other emerging GOP registration controversies in California and Colorado. Other states where Sproul’s firm had been hired to gather registrations have not reported any problems.

“A massive GOP voter registration scheme, which appears to involve the upper-echelons of the national party, [has begun] to emerge,” Mr. Friedman writes.

At the center of the controversy is Mr. Sproul, a long-time GOP campaign operative, whose firm has faced allegations of questionable tactics in the past, including changing or throwing out registration forms filled out by Democrats.

Quoted by Lee Fang of the nonpartisan Republic Report, former Rep. Chris Cannon (R) of Utah, during a voter fraud hearing, admitted that “the difference between ACORN and Sproul is that ACORN doesn't throw away or change registration documents after they have been filled out.”

Mr. Sproul has worked for a string of Republican presidential campaigns, including Mitt Romney’s. He was recommended to the Florida GOP by the National Republican Committee. Until being fired Tuesday, Sproul’s company had received $1.3 million from Republicans, including nearly $700,000 from the Florida Republican Party.

It’s far from clear whether the registrations would have led to voter fraud, or if they were simply attempts by employees to show that they’d done their jobs. That point may be underscored by the amateurish nature of the fraud.

Problems included the lack of Social Security numbers, fake house numbers, and dates of birth that didn’t match the name.

"It was that flagrant," elections supervisor Ann W. Bodenstein told the Los Angeles Times. "In no way did they look genuine. Anyone with any sense would have known there was something wrong.”

Palm Beach County election supervisor Susan Bucher told the Brad Blog on Friday that the activity could lead to disenfranchisement.

"If they're changing your address from your real address, and you did not submit that, somebody was submitting it on your behalf in a false manner, then on Election Day you will not appear on the voter rolls and you're going to have to vote a provisional ballot,” she says, adding that if the voter is not at the correct polling precinct “we can’t [by law] … count your ballot.”

"It's certainly very concerning as we move towards the registration deadline in a very important presidential election in the swing-state of Florida," she added.

The issue may not go away quietly. While no charges have been filed yet, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is determining whether criminal indictments are warranted.

Why do Election 2012 swing states matter? 5 resources to explain.

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