Thursday, October 28, 2004

Oregon: Dirty tricks keep voters on guard

Mid-Valley residents say they were misled by canvassers


Statesman Journal
October 28, 2004

Many local college students unwittingly registered to vote as Republicans this month when they thought they were signing petitions to reduce car-insurance rates.
Similar complaints about fraudulent voter registrations are emerging from around the state, and some people are wondering whether they can be traced to canvassers paid by the Republican Party.
The canvassers are paid for each GOP registration card they collect.
"I think there were various goofy things that happened in a lot of places," said John Lindback, state Elections Division director. "How widespread it was, I don't know."
A few weeks ago, Kati Bennett was walking to class at Western Oregon University when she was hailed by a group of men and asked to sign a petition to lower car-insurance rates.
"All you have to do is sign this petition," she recalls being told, "and they made me fill out this little card."
Bennett, 18, filled in "nonpartisan" where it asked for party affiliation, but the man crossed it out. She was in too much of a hurry to get to class to raise a stink. Although she plans to vote for George W. Bush for president, she still was mad when she found that they changed her party registration against her will.
"I was basically lied to," Bennett said. "It's hard enough to get teenagers to vote as it is."
Polk County elections manager Val Unger said she has heard of five stories similar to Bennett's, all involving a fake petition to reduce car-insurance rates.
Unger grew suspicious when she received a stack of more than 400 voter-registration cards submitted at the Oct. 12 deadline. All were marked Republican.
More than half of them turned out to be people who already were registered, and many of those had previously been registered as Democrats or independents. Two or three cards had the party affiliation crossed out and "Republican" was checked in its place.
West Salem resident Colleen Dusenbery fell for the same pitch while at Chemeketa Community College.
The canvasser had the top of the card covered up, so she couldn't see clearly what it was.
"When I tried to read it, he said don't worry about it," Dusenbery said. "He told me not to check any of the parties and had me sign it."
Dusenbery, 18, had registered in September as an independent and wound up getting two ballots because the canvassers misspelled her name. She's mad that her registration was changed without her permission, although she's not going to vote for Democrat John Kerry.
Sarah Barker, also a Western Oregon University student, wasn't aware she signed a new voter registration card until receiving a call from a reporter. She does recall being solicited by a canvasser on campus and getting a Tootsie Roll sucker for signing.
"I just thought I was signing some petition to lower car insurance," she said. "They had me sign my name and then my initial."
Some fraudulent voter registrations are coming to light as counties mail confirmation cards to voters.
Two of those voters recently called Yamhill County in alarm, saying that they never signed up as Republicans, said Jan Coleman, county clerk. It turns out both people signed voter-registration cards in front of the same post office, she said.
Changing peoples' voting affiliations without their consent is unethical, but it's a waste of time as a political tactic, said Andi Miller, executive director of Common Cause of Oregon, a campaign watchdog group. That's because voters still will get ballots and cast them the way they want, she said.
The problem would have been more serious if it occurred before a primary election, because voters would have received the wrong ballot.
As a battleground state in the 2004 presidential race, Oregon experienced unprecedented drives to register new voters this year. Both sides paid canvassers to collect voter-registration cards. However, Democratic groups paid by the hour, while the group hired by the Republican National Committee, Sproul & Associates, paid for each GOP card collected.
Sproul did not return a phone call to its office in Arizona.
"They were the only ones with any incentive to falsify the cards," said Scott Ballo, spokesman for America Coming Together in Oregon, which led the largest voter registration drive in the state.
Democrats aren't the only ones raising questions about Sproul, which already is being investigated in Oregon and elsewhere for complaints that it shredded Democratic voter-registration cards rather than turn them in as required by law.
Kevin Mannix, Oregon Republican Party chairman, said his party doesn't gain from fraudulent voter registrations.
The 400 Republican voter-registration cards received in Polk County were part of 8,000 collected around the state and turned in by Republican Party officials on the Oct. 12 deadline. Most of those were collected by volunteers, he said.
Mannix said he was assured that his people didn't add anything to the registration cards or make any changes. But he can't speak to what Sproul staff members did, and there might have been some people hired by the company who violated the rules, Mannix said. or (503) 399-6615


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