October 11, 2008 - Voter signup fraud alleged
Paper: Press-Enterprise, The ( Riverside, CA)
Title: Voter signup fraud alleged
Date: October 11, 2008
Author: DUANE W. GANG AND MICHELLE DEARMOND, THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE
Brooke Rodriguez was between classes at San Bernardino Valley College when a young man asked her to sign a petition. He told her signing meant she supported tougher laws for child molesters, she said.
Instead, the 19-year-old said she later learned she actually signed a form switching her from Democrat to Republican.
Rodriguez is one of a dozen San Bernardino County voters The Press-Enterprise found in recent interviews who said their party affiliation was switched against their will - a process known as "slamming" - or who said they were coerced into becoming Republicans.
The newspaper called 140 voters, reached 29 and found nine who said they never intended to register as Republican.
Another three said they were pressured into becoming Republicans.
Reporters contacted voters who re-registered as Republicans between Aug. 18 and Sept. 3 after San Bernardino County Democrats alleged fraud during that time period.
Democrats said they called 100 voters, interviewed 33 and found 27 who said they were flipped fraudulently.
Democrats made the "slamming" accusation last month.
The registrar confirmed that several voters, including Rodriguez, contacted by The Press-Enterprise signed forms supplied by a California Republican Party subcontractor.
The San Bernardino Democratic Central Committee turned its findings over to the San Bernardino County district attorney's office, but declined to provide the media with names and details about the alleged victims.
The California Republican Party's spokesman said Friday he's perplexed how voters could claim they were fraudulently switched.
The group's signature gatherers wear GOP T-shirts, sit near signs identifying their affiliation and have voters sign an additional document declaring they were not coerced into registering as Republicans, Hector Barajas said.
Barajas also said his party sends postcards to and telephones all new Republicans, and only a handful of those contacted statewide have said they didn't want to be registered Republican.
The GOP this week accused Democrats of interfering with Republicans' legal voter -registration efforts.
A state GOP lawyer this month sent a letter of complaint to the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles and a cease-and-desist letter to the San Bernardino County Democratic Party.
The voter -registration numbers are key to Democrats' efforts to flip the Republican county back to a Democratic plurality after several years of Republican dominance.
At stake are not only bragging rights but more potential attention from national Democrats and donors.
Regardless, San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Kari Verjil said voters shouldn't worry about the switches. Everyone will get the same ballot Nov. 4.
OTHER CASES CROP UP
Similar issues are popping up elsewhere. Republican John McCain called Friday for an investigation of ties between Democrat Barack Obama and a group accused of compiling fake voter -registration forms.
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now is the focus of fraud investigations in Nevada, Connecticut, Missouri and at least five other states.
Obama hired a firm with ties to the group for a massive get- out-the-vote effort.
Criminal charges are rare in such cases.
In Orange County, signature gatherers were sentenced to probation last year and ordered to stop recruiting voters after pleading guilty to election fraud. They registered residents there as Republicans without their knowledge.
The same kind of "slamming" allegations surfaced a couple of years ago in San Bernardino County, prompting GOP leaders to shut down registration drives at the time.
An analysis of voter records by The Press-Enterprise in 2006 found that at least 37 voters in San Bernardino County had their registrations switched against their will in late 2005 to early 2006, but no criminal charges were filed.
Signature gatherers then, as they are now, were paid a bounty - in some cases as high as $15 - for every Republican they registered.
Critics believe those bounties serve as an incentive for fraud.
In this latest round of alleged fraud, Rodriguez, the Valley College student, said she recalls the man trying to coerce her into becoming a Republican by telling her he would get paid more money if she did.
Rodriguez, a full-time student, had no interest in becoming a Republican, she said.
"I didn't think that he could switch it without telling me," said Rodriguez, who later received a notice in the mail at her Fontana home and a phone call from the Democratic Party. "I just started laughing when I realized what he did."
Rodriguez now plans to register - again - as a Democrat.
Donna Schwartz, a 55-year-old Montclair mother, was outside a Stater Bros. grocery store where she signed a petition she thought would help lower gasoline prices.
The signature gatherer said she had to switch Schwartz's registration to Republican in order for the petition signature to count, Schwartz said.
"I wasn't real thrilled," she said, although she conceded she didn't protest. "I just felt like I was a little betrayed, to tell the truth."
Looking back, Schwartz said she wished she had looked at what she was signing more carefully and stopped the woman, who declared matter- of -factly that she was re-registering Schwartz as a Republican.
"I've just never been a Republican," she said.
But not everyone is claiming the switches are improper.
Some voters wanted to join the ranks of San Bernardino County Republicans.
Melody Flores Ayers, 50, of Rialto, also changed her registration in front of the Rialto Wal-Mart.
"I re-registered as a Republican. Right now, I am on the fence. I am upset about both sides," she said.
The signature gatherer was upfront with her, Ayers said.
"He was a really great kid," she said, noting that he was wearing a red T-shirt, something state Republicans say all their voter -registration workers wear.
"He didn't lie or anything," Ayers said. "There was no baloney going on."
Barbara Fernald, 51, was glad to see signature gatherers outside her Highland Stater Bros. store and willingly made the switch from Democrat to Republican.
She said she needed to update her voter registration anyway and learned from the couple at the registration table that she could change her party there, too.
"I had for awhile been watching the TV and listening and reading in the newspaper, and I already had my mind made up," said Fernald, of Green Valley Lake. "I'm not liking what I hear and see on the Democrats' side anymore."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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HOW WE DID IT
In order to independently verify accusations of voter fraud made by the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee, The Press-Enterprise conducted its own investigation of the same time period studied by the Democrats. Here's what we did:
Called 140 voters who were not Republicans in July but who switched to Republican registration between Aug. 18 and Sept. 3, making contact with and interviewing more than two dozen.
Found 17 who said they intended to switch to Republican
Found 9 who said they never intended to change parties
Found 3 who said they were coerced into switching so the signature gatherer could get paid more money.
Cross-referenced those names against voter -registration cards on file with the registrar , who confirmed several of the registrations were handled by Young Political Majors, a California Republican Party subcontractor paid to sign up voters . Other forms were signed by gatherers whose signatures and company were not legible on voter registration forms, the registrar said.
Edition: ALL ZONES
Section: A SECTION
Record Number: 845554
Copyright (c) 2008 The Press-Enterprise Co.