The "Radical Magazine" Reader's Digest Educates Americans on the Ugly Reality of Election Fraud in the US in the 1990's

"They're Stealing the Election" by Trevor Armbrister, Reader's Digest, August 1997, p. 91

Note: Links show how the facts of the case this article describes correspond to patterns uncovered in San Francisco's stadium election investigation.

Earlier this year in an office building in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, witnesses were still talking about the 1996 election for the U.S. Senate in which Democrat Mary Landrieu defeated Republican Louis "Woody" Jenkins.

"This nice person drove up and asked whether I was registered," one woman said to the lawyers and investigators for Jenkins. "I told him I was but I didn't feel like going. He said, 'If I paid you, would you go?' I got up and dusted off my little pants and got in the car." The woman, who neither reads nor writes, said the man took her to three polling places, where she voted and signed an "X" each time.

On Election Day, said a 32-year-old mechanic, he drove a van, "picking up people to go down there to vote at least ten times or more." For his efforts, he received $700.

One woman, who said she voted three times, groused about how much she was paid. "I was supposed to get $75 and all they gave me was $25." She said they also gave her an "ol' stanky T-shirt" with Landrieu's picture on it.

These are among the numerous allegations that constitute the core of Jenkins's challenge to a very close election; Landrieu won by only 5788 votes out of more than 1.7 million cast. Even though Jenkins cried foul as soon as the election returns were in, his charges were not taken seriously at first. He was called "a sore loser" who need to "get on with his life."

Quietly, however, he and his volunteers began gathering evidence. In more than 8000 pages of affidavits and exhibits, they claimed to have identified 7454 phantom or illegal votes.

No one has alleged that Landrieu herself participated in or knew about any illegal activities that may have benefited her candidacy. But a chorus of voices has pronounced the Louisiana vote suspect at best. Says Neal Hogan, an attorney who conducted an on-scene probe for the Virginia-based Voting Integrity Project, "Probable cause exists to believe that large-scale violations of federal and state election law have occurred. The most serious include the purchasing of votes, multiple voting and the casting of fraudulent votes." (Note: This group is also studying the San Francisco stadium election.)

Throughout Election Day last November, exit polls showed Jenkins and Landrieu in a dead heat. But at 9:45 p.m.--almost two hours after the polls had closed--Jenkins campaign finance director Mark Seifert discovered that some 70 of New Orleans's 474 precincts had not yet reported their vote.

"We're dead," he told campaign workers in Baton Rouge. "They've held precincts back and they're voting them now. They're stealing the election."

Indeed, outside New Orleans Jenkins won by 95,000 votes. Within city limits, however, he was buried by 100,000. In certain New Orleans precincts the computer voting-machine tapes bore incorrect dates; in those precincts Jenkins lost to Landrieu by a margin of nine to one.

Under Louisiana law, voting machines are supposed to be locked after the polls have closed. Three days later the machines are to be opened in full view and their totals reviewed. But on the morning of November 8, when the candidates' staffs were allowed into the warehouse where the New Orleans machines were stored, they found them already open. Election officials claim the machines were not tampered with, but at the very least this was a clear violation of election law.

"Corruption in Louisiana Politics?" asked the Slidell, LA, Sentry-News in a 1995 headline. "Surely You Jest." In fact, the state has a long reputation for crooked politics. But in the 1996 election, the opportunities for fraud were especially high for several reasons:

Invisible voters. In 1994, as required by federal law, Louisiana enacted a "Motor Voter" statute allowing voters to sign up at auto-license bureaus, welfare agencies and other government offices. To protect ballot security, the statute required that if a voter who registered by mail had never cast a ballot in the parish (county) before, he or she must produce a photo ID at the polling place.

That seemed reasonable. Even though many of those affected would be poor and black, the legislature's Black Caucus supported the measure. But in Washington, the Clinton Administration said no. Assistant Attorney General Deval L. Patrick decreed that the provision violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965--because blacks were not as likely as whites to have driver's licenses or other picture IDs.

Ten months later investigative reporter Sunny Brown of the Lake Charles, LA, American Press, sent 25 bogus voter applications, complete with fake names, addresses and dates of birth, to Louisiana vote registrars. Twenty of the fictitious residents--including one signed "X"--received voter registration cards.

Brown's expose should have been a warning to election officials. As one parish's assistant D.A. told her, "There is no reason people who don't exist should be registered to vote." But under the Clinton Administration's decree, officials at the November 1996 polls would not be allowed to request a photo ID to uncover fake voters.

After the election, Jenkins's investigators discovered that the addresses of 3169 recently registered voters in New Orleans's public-housing projects were now considered by the city to be vacant apartments. Of those "residents," 1380 had voted in the election.

Gambling money. Since its introduction in Louisiana in 1991, gambling has become a multibillion-dollar industry, and it spends huge amounts of money increasing its political clout. Warns Charles Lewis of the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, nationwide, "gambling is out of control as an interest group."

Last fall, Louisiana's gambling businesses poured between $10 million and $12 million into pro-gambling proposals on the same ballot as the Landrieu-Jenkins race. Louisiana law prohibits gambling interests from contributing to candidates, but as Election Day neared, say Jenkins supporters, pro-casino forces tied their fortunes to New Orleans's Democratic machine.

The bankrupt Harrah's Jazz casino, for example, borrowed $1 million from its parent company,Harrah's Entertainment, Inc., of Memphis, Tenn., and hired hundreds of election workers. Jenkins backers say they interviewed some of these workers who claimed to have handed out literature that endorsed Senate candidate Landrieu. Harrah's denies that anyone handed out literature mentioning any candidate while working for the casino.

In New Orleans,campaign finance records reveal, precinct poll commissioner-in-charge Mary Deloch received $800 from Bally's Casino in September for "canvassing/ballot." Bally's and Deloch say that the money was for her community organization to hand out leaflets in support of the gambling issues before the election. In all, at least five poll commissioners were paid to work for gambling firms during the campaign. According to state filings, Yvonne Atkins, for instance, earned $120 from Harrah's for being a "supervisor" on Election Day while simultaneously being paid by the state. It is illegal for a poll commissioner to be paid for other work on Election Day. Harrah's says they were unaware that Atkins was a poll commissioner. Atkins refused to comment to Reader's Digest.

The gambling industry also helped turn out the vote. In Baton Rouge, the Belle of Baton Rouge, a riverboat casino, sent a bus to the Jefferson Manor Nursing Home at the facility's request. There it picked up, among others, a woman in her 70s and drove her to a polling place. The woman's brother was astonished. "I didn't know she was capable of voting," he told Reader's Digest. "She's retarded." Most patients at the facility, a nursing supervisor concedes, suffer from dementia.

Machine politics. New Orleans's powerful political machine--Louisiana Independent Federation of Electors or LIFE--funded an army of get-out-the-vote troops in New Orleans. According to participants and witnesses, LIFE-Landrieu supporters used vans to haul voters from one precinct to the next. "They'd give them different names," one driver told Jenkins's investigators. "Each person voted about seven times."

Founded in 1967 by current mayor Marc Morial's father, LIFE flouts state and federal regulations with which other political groups must comply, claiming it is a "civil rights" group, not a political one. It has failed to file campaign finance reports to the Louisiana Board of Ethics or the Federal Election Commission. Yet, exults LIFE adviser, Bob Tucker, "I don't think there's a better-organized Election Day effort anywhere in the country."

Well before last November's election, according to a sworn affidavit by a former assistant city attorney, Morial's office posted a list over 200 employees at City Hall, specifying where each was to report for campaign work--including the Clinton-Gore and Landrieu headquarters as well as a LIFE location. The attorney says he and other law-department employees were warned by City Attorney Avis Russell that there would be "consequences" for those who didn't appear. Russell denies the charge.

The mounting indications of wrongdoing were sufficient to cause the U.S. Senate Rules Committee to authorize an investigation last April into the allegations of vote-buying and multiple voting.

The committee is asking two questions: Did Landrieu supporters steal more votes than her 5788-ballot margin of victory? Or, alternatively, was fraud so pervasive that the election result is tainted? If either is the case, there could be a new election in Louisiana.

Free and fair elections constitute the bedrock of democracy. The possibility that a U.S. Senate seat might have been stolen is deeply disturbing. Dismissing such an outrage as just "politics as usual" would be the biggest injustice of all.

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