|By Jason Leopold and Matt Renner|
26 July 2007
published in www.truthout.org
Previously undisclosed documents detail how Republican operatives, with the knowledge of several White House officials, engaged in an illegal, racially-motivated effort to suppress tens of thousands of votes during the 2004 presidential campaign in a state where George W. Bush was trailing his Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry.
The documents also contain details describing how Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign officials, and at least one individual who worked for White House political adviser Karl Rove, planned to stop minorities residing in Cuyahoga County from voting on election day.
The efforts to purge voters from registration rolls was spearheaded by Tim Griffin, a former Republican National Committee opposition researcher. Griffin recently resigned from his post as interim US attorney for Little Rock Arkansas. His predecessor, Bud Cummins, was forced out to make way for Griffin.
Another set of documents, 43 pages of emails, provided to Truthout by the PBS news program "NOW," contains blueprints for a massive effort undertaken by RNC operatives in 2004, to challenge the eligibility of voters expected to support Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in states such as Nevada, New Mexico, Florida and Pennsylvania.
One email, dated September 30, 2004, and sent to a dozen or so staffers on the Bush-Cheney campaign and the RNC, under the subject line "voter fraud strategy conference call," describes how campaign staffers planned to challenge the veracity of votes in a handful of battleground states in the event of a Democratic victory.
Furthermore, the emails show the Bush-Cheney campaign and RNC staffers compiled voter-challenge lists that targeted probable Democratic voters in at least five states: New Mexico, Ohio, Florida, Nevada and Pennsylvania. Voting rights lawyers have made allegations of so called "vote caging," against Republicans previously. These emails provide more evidence. One Republican operative involved in the planning wrote "we can do this in NV, FL, PA and NM because we have a list to run against the Absentee Ballot requests, and should."
Vote caging is an illegal tactic to suppress minorities from voting by having their names purged from voter rolls when they fail to respond to registered mail sent to their homes. The Republican National Committee signed a consent decree in 1986 stating they would not engage in the practice after they were caught suppressing votes in 1981 and 1986.
In a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) and Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) said "[c]aging is a reprehensible voter suppression tactic, and it may also violate federal law and the terms of applicable judicially enforceable consent decrees." Senators Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) and Whitehouse have called for a Justice Department probe into the practice.
One of the individuals connected to the White House who was the recipient of dozens of emails discussing the strategy to suppress votes was Coddy Johnson, the national field director of Bush's 2004 campaign and former associate director of political affairs, working under Karl Rove. Johnson's father was Bush's college roommate at Yale. Another person who was asked to participate in the so-called "voter fraud strategy" conference call was Jennifer Millerwise, a former deputy communications director for the Bush-Cheney 2004 re-election campaign and a former spokesperson for Vice President Cheney. Millerwise was interviewed by Patrick Fitzgerald during the federal investigation into the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.
Other participants for the conference call included Mark "Thor" Hearne. Hearne is closely aligned with Karl Rove and the RNC and has been accused of pushing for the firings of some US attorneys by at least one of the fired attorneys. Some of the attorneys believe they were fired based on their refusal to prosecute alleged cases of voter fraud.
Emails among Ohio Republican Party official Michael Magan, Coddy Johnson, then national field director of the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign, and Timothy Griffin, reveal the men were given documents that could be used as evidence to justify widespread voter challenges if the Bush campaign needed to contest the election results. Johnson referred to the documents as a "goldmine".
The valuable documents were lists of registered voters who did not return address confirmation forms to the Ohio Board of Elections. The Republican operatives compared this list with lists of voters who requested absentee ballots. In the opinion of one of the strategists, the fact that many names appeared on both lists was evidence of voter fraud. "A bad registration card can be an accident or fraud. A bad card AND an Absentee Ballot request is a clear case of fraud," according to former Bush-Cheney campaign staffer Robert Paduchik.
Another Republican operative saw the value of the Ohio list from a media strategy perspective. According to the emails, Christopher McInerney, a RNC researcher said "... I have already tasked our IT [information technology] person with creating a match list between the Board of Elections return mail list and the Absentee Ballot request list. Jack [Christopher] thought this would be a good idea to have - to reference as part of the larger DenHerder press strategy." It is not known what the "DenHerder press strategy" refers to, but Dave DenHerder served as regional political director for the 2004 Bush campaign.
McInerney's email continues, "I can't speak to other states, but if they don't have flagged voter rolls, we run the risk of having GOP fingerprints."
Strategist Christopher Guith responded by saying "I would think we are less worried about "fingerprints" if we have decent evidence that fraudulent ballots are being cast. I think the intent is to take the Board of Elections' list and challenge absentee ballots? At that point, isn't it more important to stop absentee ballots that we have a high certainty of fraud than avoid the hit?"
McInerney's and Guith's emails have been previously disclosed.
Griffin responded, "I guess we have to make sure we have bodies. It seems like it always comes down to bodies. Why don't you ask your peeps in each state at issue if they have the resources to do this. Then, I might/can put some resources in the states that are lacking."
The emails seem to show the Republican operatives were preparing for a confrontation reminiscent of the Florida recount affair that followed the 2000 Presidential election. This exchange took place less than one month prior to the November 2004 election.
The list of questionable voters that was compiled by the Ohio Board of Elections was quite similar to the vote caging lists used by the Republican campaigners. The Board of Elections sent out voter confirmation letters to targeted registered voters. The letters required the voter to return a confirmation request or have their name removed from the voter rolls. Because the confirmation letter gave the voter 60 days to respond, a voter who failed to respond to the confirmation request would still be on the voter rolls for the primary election, but would be purged prior to the general election.
The list was apparently checked by two people identified only as "Ted" and "Evan who" made handwritten notes in one of the columns. According to their notes, they described certain parts of Cleveland where low-income and minority voters were targeted as containing "mixed use buildings" and "single family apartments." Another section said, "looks like a parking lot ... doesn't look residential."
In an interview with Truthout in May, David Iglesias, the former US attorney for New Mexico, said Pat Rogers, one of Hearne's colleagues, alleged there was widespread voter fraud in New Mexico and pressured Iglesias to bring criminal charges against some individuals. Iglesias said he had investigated those allegations tirelessly and found zero evidence to back it up. He added that, based on evidence that had surfaced thus far and "Karl Rove's obsession with voter fraud issues throughout the country," he now believes GOP operatives had wanted him to go after Democratic-funded organizations in an attempt to swing the 2006 midterm elections to Republicans.
Jason Leopold is a former Los Angeles bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswire. He has written over 2,000 stories on the California energy crisis and received the Dow Jones Journalist of the Year Award in 2001 for his coverage on the issue as well as a Project Censored award in 2004. Leopold also reported extensively on Enron's downfall and was the first journalist to land an interview with former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling following Enron's bankruptcy filing in December 2001. Leopold has appeared on CNBC and National Public Radio as an expert on energy policy and has also been the keynote speaker at more than two dozen energy industry conferences around the country.
Matt Renner is a reporter for Truthout.