Voter drive funded by GOP accused of deception, destroying registration cards
October 22, 2004
Substitute teacher Adam Banse wanted a summer job with flexible hours, so he signed up to knock on doors in suburban Minneapolis and register people to vote.
He quit after two hours. “They said if you bring back a bunch of Democratic cards, you’ll be fired,” Banse contends. “At that point, I said, ‘Whoa. Something’s wrong here.”‘
He isn’t alone. In several battleground states across the country, a consulting firm funded by the Republican National Committee has been accused of deceiving would-be voters and destroying Democratic voter registration cards.
Arizona-based Sproul & Associates is under investigation in Oregon and Nevada over claims that canvassers hired by the company were instructed to register only Republicans and to get rid of registration forms completed by Democrats.
“We treat these complaints very seriously,” said Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury. The Democratic office-holder said three complaints were filed with election officials throughout the state. He declined to provide details, citing the continuing investigation.
Nathan Sproul, a former head of Arizona’s Republican Party and the state’s Christian Coalition branch, denies any wrongdoing and accuses Democrats of making things up.
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“This is all about making accusations,” Sproul said Thursday. “They allege fraud where none exists and get the media to cover it.”
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Heather Layman responded that her party accepts all voters, and she accused the Democratic Party of operating under this mandate: “If no sign of voter fraud exists, make it up, manipulate the media into covering baseless charges and spread fear.”
Sproul declined to name the states in which his company conducted registration drives. His political consulting firm was founded last year and has received nearly $500,000 from the RNC since July, according to federal election records.
Former canvassers such as Banse have come forward in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Oregon in the past two weeks alleging they were told to register only Republicans and to “walk away” from people who said they intended to vote for Democrat John Kerry.
Some said Democratic registration forms had been thrown out or ripped up.
It is illegal to tamper with voter registration cards, which are numbered and issued by local election officials. In some states, including Oregon, such acts are felonies.
Eric Russell of Las Vegas told The Associated Press that he watched a Sproul supervisor tear up eight to 10 registration forms completed by Democrats and managed to grab some of the shredded documents as evidence. State officials are investigating his claim.
Russell said that Voters Outreach of America, the name under which Sproul employees operated in Nevada and other states, owes him hundreds of dollars for registering residents but refuses to pay him.
Sproul called Russell simply a disgruntled employee.
Prompted by Russell’s accusations, Clark County Democrats unsuccessfully went to court last week to try to persuade a state judge to reopen voter registration in their county, which encompasses Las Vegas.
In West Virginia, Lisa Bragg said she refused a sorely needed $9-an-hour job to register voters after attending an orientation session conducted by Sproul employees.
Like Banse in Minnesota, she said canvassers were discouraged from registering Democrats and were told to misrepresent themselves as poll takers.
Bragg, who filed a complaint earlier this week with the West Virginia secretary of state’s office, said Friday that canvassers were given a script that read at the bottom, “Our goal is to register Republicans.”
She called the registration drive dishonest, adding, “I believe everyone has the right to vote. Even though I’m a Democrat, I would have registered Republicans to vote.”
In Pennsylvania this week, former Sproul canvassers said they had been instructed to not register Democrats. About 40 to 50 also complained they had not been paid.
In Pittsburgh, library patrons protested that Sproul employees were pressuring people to register as Republicans at tables set up outside a Carnegie Library branch.
A similar incident was reported in Oregon in September, when the manager of Medford library headquarters refused a Sproul request to register voters after learning the firm was affiliated with Republicans.