Over the weekend, this disturbing video of a voter registration worker at a Safeway grocery story in El Paso County, Colorado went somewhat viral...
The short video shows a young woman attempting to register voters outside the grocery store, but asking first: "I'm polling people. Would you vote for Romney or Obama?"
When the unidentified woman shooting the video tells the young lady she thought she was registering people to vote, the registration worker admits she is. The woman asks who she works for, and the young lady admits, "I'm actually trying to register voters for a particular party, because...we're out here in support of Romney, actually."
Then the woman asks her who is paying her for this work and the young lady, after a moment's pause, says, "We're working for the county clerk's office."
The woman is, understandably, aghast at the registration worker's response and asks again incredulously, "You're working for the county clerk's office?!"
"I believe so. Yes," replies the worker, shortly before the video ends.
As it turns out, the registration worker was not working for the El Paso County Clerk's office, according to responses sent to The BRAD BLOG by the CO Secretary of State's office as well as the El Paso County Clerk. Instead, she was a paid employee of the state Republican Committee, as confirmed by the local GOP Chairman. And, incredibly enough, both the Sec. of State and County Clerk, both Republicans, assert that what the registration worker is seen doing in the video, screening out potential voters based on who they might vote for, is absolutely legal in the state of Colorado...
'Both sides do it,' says one side
"There is nothing in state law that would prevent it," Richard Coolidge, Communications Director for Sec. of State Scott Gessler (R) told us, after we'd asked if registration workers are allowed to ask potential registrants, before giving them the chance to register, whether or not they are supporters of one party or one candidate over another.
Coolidge says that what the worker is seen doing in the video is absolutely fine, so long as the screening happens before the registrant starts filling out of the registration form.
"Once the person starts filling out the application," he explained, the registration worker "is required to submit the form to the county clerk."
"We see voter registration drives on both sides of the aisle target specific demographics," Coolidge claimed via email. "But any registrations they receive, regardless of party affiliation, must be submitted timely or face strict penalties."
Colorado Springs NBC affiliate KOAA News 5 noticed the video as well over the weekend. They report that El Paso County Republican Chairman Eli Bremer confirmed the young lady was, indeed, working for them. But, he said, she was confused, when asked on video, about whom she was working for.
"It was her first day on the job and she panicked," Bremer told KOAA. "She knew that she was turning in all the registrations to the County Clerk & Recorder's office and she knew that was the appropriate thing to do, and that's how she answered." He also added that "You don't have to offer a voter registration form to everybody."
But Bremer's responses were not completely candid, says Christy Le Lait, Executive Directory of the El Paso County Democratic Party. Bremer had accused the woman who took the video and posted it on Youtube of being "a campaign operative" for Democrats, and that she was only attempting "to make political hay out of it."
Le Lait told KOAA that Bremer's charges were "interesting."
"I don't know of any campaign operatives here in El Paso County and I know for certain that the woman who shot this video is not a campaign operative," Le Lait said, "she's a volunteer with several different organizations including the El Paso Democratic Party and she's also a precinct chair."
Le Lait says that, unlike Republicans, at least in her county, Democrats do not screen out voters, at least not in the same way, when signing up new registrants. "I know for a fact the campaign office is not going out and prescreening the people that are registering," she says. "They will set up a table with an Obama sign but they don't ask you who you're voting for before you register."
Is it really 'legal'?
We sought responses to specific questions from El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams as well as the county's Election Manager Liz Olson. Williams responded by sending a statement released to the media previously. We did not hear back from "golddiggermom", the user name of the woman who apparently video-taped the incident and uploaded it to Youtube over the weekend, after attempting to reach her via the online video website.
According to the Boston Globe, Williams "is a former chairman of the El Paso County Republican Party, and the Romney campaign announced his endorsement in February." The paper also reports that Williams "is an advocate of a state voter identification law that would require proof of citizenship for registration and photo IDs at the polls."
In the statement [PDF] he sent us, Williams says: "My office does not and will not engage in partisan voter registration. It is the duty of the clerk’s office to ensure that elections are conducted in a fair and honest manner; this includes allowing anyone to register to vote regardless of their political party affiliation."
Nonetheless, both the Globe and KOAA report that the type of screening seen in the video is legal under Colorado election law.
While the Sec. of State's office confirms that "voter registration drive workers cannot be paid per application," as they routinely are in other states, we found it somewhat stunning that voters could be screened out, as seen in the video, based on who they tell registration workers they might vote for.
Angie Layton, who has worked with the non-partisan Boulder Valley League of Women Voters on registering voters in CO, tells The BRAD BLOG that what is seen in the video "certainly violates the way in which the League trains their volunteers."
But is it illegal? CO's Election Code (see section 1-2-506. Prohibitions [PDF]) says only that registration workers "shall not...(a) Seek to influence an applicant's political preference or party registration; (b) Display any political preference or party allegiance; (c) Make any statement to an applicant or take any action, the purpose or effect of which is to discourage the applicant from registering to vote."
Does claiming to be "taking a poll" and asking "would you vote for Romney or Obama?", as the young lady is seen doing in the video, before offering a registration form constitute "a statement...or action...the purpose or effect of which is to discourage the applicant from registering to vote"? According to the Republican Sec. of State and El Paso County Clerk, the answer seems to be 'no'.
Nonetheless, the matter certainly appears to walk a precarious legal and ethical line that the GOP would, to quote Bremer, almost certainly "make political hay out of," had the situation been reversed and the video revealed either an ACORN worker or someone from the Democratic Party on video doing the very same thing.
Republican registration fraud
While Republicans had long been critical of fraudulent voter registration efforts they inaccurately attributed to ACORN, the non-partisan, four-decade old community organizing group (which has since been forced into bankruptcy as a result of the years-long effort to mischaracterize them and their work) there is no evidence, to our knowledge, that any of its tens of thousands of registration workers ever screened out potential registrants from one party or another before allowing them to register. Moreover, it should be noted, of the handful of their registration workers who submitted fraudulent applications over the years, almost all of those workers were turned into officials by ACORN themselves, as they checked applications for validity before turning them in, flagged those which appeared to be fraudulent, and then turned in the workers who had defrauded them to officials.
Contrast that with the activities admitted to by the Republican Party in Colorado, and by a number of recent cases of massive registration fraud by the Republican Party in California, as well as other states. (For the record, ACORN was never hired to do registration work by the Democratic Party, despite inaccurate Republican claims to the contrary.)
In 2008, for example --- at the height of that year's GOP/Fox "News" ACORN "voter fraud" scam --- a group calling itself Young Political Majors (YPM) was hired by the CA Republican Party to do voter registration. The firm was reportedly paid $7 to $12 for every Californian it registered as a member of the GOP. YPM was subsequently found to have been changing thousands of voter registration forms from Democratic to Republican. The group's CEO, Mark Anthony Jacoby, was eventually arrested (see video of my appearance announcing the news on Fox in a live "Fox News Alert" that year) before he later pleaded guilty to voter registration fraud.
Earlier this year, in 2012, the Sacramento Republican Party was found to have hired Momentum Political Services, headed up by a woman described as a "professional con-artist". The group allegedly turned in thousands of fraudulent voter registrations in a $50,000 bounty scheme, seeking Republican registrations, as paid for by the GOP in the district of Congressman Dan Lungren (R).
And, of course, there is Nathan Sproul, whose organization was hired by the GOP in 2004 and accused of shredding thousands of Democratic voter registrations in several states before, nonetheless, being hired again by the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008.
Given Republican CO Secretary of State Scott Gessler's obsession with purported fraud in elections --- he was recently forced to abandon a purge of thousands of "suspected non-citizens" on the voting rolls, when almost all of them immediately turned out to be legal citizens, and has faced enormous opposition from Election Integrity advocates for his attempt to change a number of other rules before this year's Presidential Election --- it's almost remarkable that his office seemed to show little, if any, concern at all about Republican registration workers seemingly screening out possible Democratic voters from their registration process.
Or, given Gessler's track record, maybe it isn't.
UPDATE 9/26, 3:59am PT: GOP voter registration scandal widens. Is the CO operation seen at work in the video above being run by the same folks just fired by the FL GOP? New story of voter registration fraud in FL suggests firm, owned by Romney consultant, may be running similar operation in CO. Full details now here...