The Department of Justice’s ongoing Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative was established in October 2002 to spearhead the Department’s expanded efforts to address election crimes and voting rights violations.
The Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative includes:
Annual Training. Prosecutors serving as District Election Officers in the 94 U.S. Attorneys’ offices are required to attend annual training conferences sponsored by the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division and the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division. The conferences feature presentations on voting access and ballot integrity by Civil Rights officials and senior prosecutors from the Public Integrity Section and the United States Attorneys’ Offices. As a result of these conferences, there is a nationwide increase in Department expertise relating to the prosecution of election crimes and the enforcement of voting rights.
State Coordination. Each U.S. Attorney is required to meet before the November general elections with the Secretary of State or other Chief State Election Official, or the State Attorney General, responsible for handling election matters in his or her district. The purposes of these meetings are to coordinate the investigation of criminal matters involving joint federal/state jurisdiction, ensure state compliance with federal voting rights laws, and help avoid interference with the administration of elections, a function left primarily to the states by the Constitution. In addition to these preelection meetings, several U.S. Attorneys have established task forces with their state counterparts to increase their effectiveness in addressing election fraud and deterring discrimination at the polls.
Prioritization of Election Crime Enforcement. The Initiative requires that all components of the Department place a high priority on the investigation and prosecution of election crimes. These crimes include both ballot fraud, such as vote buying and absentee ballot fraud, and campaign financing offenses, such as contributing to federal candidates from prohibited sources or through conduits to disguise the source or amount of the contribution. The Public Integrity Section oversees the national effort to ensure that the Department’s election crime investigations and charges have sufficient factual and legal predication, that they do not interfere with an ongoing election, and that a national standard is maintained in this critical area of criminal law enforcement.
As a result of the Initiative, nationwide enforcement of election crimes has increased dramatically. At present, 195 investigations are pending throughout the country. Moreover, since the start of the Initiative in 2002:
-Over 300 investigations of possible election crime have been opened, and over 125 election crime matters have been closed after investigation.
-119 individuals have been charged with ballot fraud offenses and 86 individuals have been convicted of these crimes.
-48 individuals have been charged with campaign financing fraud and 42 individuals have been convicted of these offenses.
The following cases illustrate a few of the Department’s recent enforcement successes in addressing election crimes:
-In Alabama, a jury convicted the former sheriff of Jefferson County and his attorney of conspiracy to defraud the United States and theft of government property in connection with their use of records of the National Crime Information Center to conduct criminal history searches of absentee voters to support an election contest.
-In Florida, in the first jury convictions involving the new felony campaign financing crimes enacted by Congress in 2002, two defendants were convicted for making conduit contributions to curry favor with federal officials, wire fraud, and money laundering in connection with a land fraud scheme. The lead defendant was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment and restitution of over $12 million.
-In Kansas, a congressional candidate pleaded guilty to bank fraud and embezzling campaign contributions and was sentenced to 15 months of imprisonment.
-In New Hampshire, the former New England Regional Director of the Republican National Committee was convicted by a jury of telephone harassment charges in connection with a scheme to prevent voters from getting to the polls in the November 2002 federal elections by jamming phone lines of local organizations. He was sentenced to 10 months of imprisonment and a fine of $10,000. Two additional defendants, including the former Executive Director of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee, pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme, and a fourth defendant is currently under indictment and awaiting trial.
-In Kentucky, 12 persons were convicted of vote buying in recent federal elections, and eight more persons were indicted on vote buying charges last week.
-In West Virginia, 15 persons were convicted of vote buying in recent elections.
CIVIL RIGHTS DIVISION ENFORCEMENT:
-Election Coverage. Last year, an off-year election year, the Division sent a total of 831 individuals (191 Justice Department personnel; 640 observers from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM)) to monitor 47 elections in 36 political subdivisions in 14 states. This compares to 743 individuals (103 department personnel; 640 OPM observers) sent to monitor 46 elections in 31 political subdivisions in 13 states during the 2000 Presidential election year. During all of 2004, the Division sent a total of 1,996 individuals (533 department personnel; 1,463 OPM observers) to monitor 163 elections in 105 political subdivisions in 29 states, which was well over twice as many observers as were used in all of 2000.
-Sections 203, 208 and 4(f)(4) of the Voting Rights Act. Since 2001, the Civil Rights Division has undertaken the most vigorous enforcement of section 203 in the history of the Voting Rights Act, filing more cases to protect the rights of voters under the minority language provisions than in the previous 26-year history of the Act – more than in five previous Administrations combined. During this period the Civil Rights Division filed the first-ever cases to protect Filipino voters (San Diego, and Vietnamese voters (San Diego), and it negotiated a private agreement in Harris County, Texas on behalf of Vietnamese voters. Since 2002, the Division also has filed five of the seven cases that have ever been filed under Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act, which provides voters who require assistance by reason of blindness, disability or inability to read or write, the right, generally, to an assistor of their choice. The Division also used sections 2, 4(e) and 208 to protect the rights of Haitian voters (Miami-Dade, Fl.), Arab voters (Hamtramck, Mich.), and Puerto Rican voters (Berks County, Pa.).
-Section 2. Since the start of the Initiative, the Civil Rights Division has filed six section 2 lawsuits. Most recently, in July 2006, it filed a case against Euclid, Ohio, under section 2 alleging that the mixed at-large/ward system of electing the city council dilutes the voting strength of African-American citizens. And in Feb. 2006, the Division filed a case, and the court entered a consent decree, against Long County, Ga., under section 2 alleging that election officials required 45 Hispanic residents, whose right to vote had been challenged on the grounds that they were not U.S. citizens, to attend a hearing and prove their citizenship, even though there was no evidence calling into question their citizenship and even though similarly situated non-Hispanics were not required to do so.
-HAVA. Since 2004, the Civil Rights Division has filed five lawsuits for compliance with the requirements of the Help America Vote Act, which mandates uniform and non-discriminatory election procedures for federal office. The Division also has obtained voluntary compliance and has filed amicus briefs in several private HAVA cases to ensure consistency in interpretation of its provisions.
-UOCAVA. This year, the Division resolved long-standing structural problems affecting UOCAVA voters in Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina involving their run-off elections, which were too close in time to the primary to allow UOCAVA voters to be able to receive and return ballots for any run-offs. The Division also initiated litigation in 2004 against Pennsylvania and Georgia, successfully obtaining court orders requiring changes in the deadlines for the return of ballots so that overseas and military ballots would be counted in each state's 2004 primary election.
-NVRA. Beginning in 2002, the Division has brought six lawsuits under the National Voter Registration Act, a law designed to expand registration opportunities for all citizens and to ensure proper maintenance of voter registration lists. Within the past month, the Division filed a consent decree with the State of Indiana, which had failed to ensure that it has a uniform general list maintenance program that makes a reasonable effort to remove ineligible voters from the rolls consistent with the requirements and protections of the NVRA. The state had admitted that it had over 29,000 possible deceased registrants on the state's registration lists and nearly 290,000 possible duplicate registrations, none of which had been removed from the state's registration database prior to the consent decree. In both Indiana and in a case filed against Missouri in late 2005, numerous counties had voter registration rolls that contained more voters registered to vote than there were persons in the county of voting age.
As the above cases and enforcement actions demonstrate, the Department’s Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative is a balanced effort that is designed to make voting easier and cheating more costly. Through vigorous enforcement of the voting rights and election crime statutes, the Department will continue to enforce federal voting rights and criminal laws in a way that ensures that the right to vote is protected and that those who seek to dilute the worth of honest votes through corruption know that the Department will use all available resources to bring them to justice.